Why am I a pastor again?
Time in ministry comes and goes. Sermons come and go. No wonder it can become so depressing when it seems everyone else lives the dream, sets goals and makes resolutions to for example get healthy or the more popular one, to get wealthy. “I could never do that, have such a material goal”, you think. “I’m just a pastor. Ambition and being a pastor don’t play nice together”.
Anything can trigger this line of thinking. Certain times of the year contribute more to increasing our self doubt. It can be the anti-climactic, post-euphoric post-holiday season demon that drags our thoughts downward at the beginning of a new year. New programs must be conjured up, sermon series must be planned. And then there is just life that happens, mortgages (or bonds as it is known in South Africa) and paying taxes. The weekly solitude of the study, hunched over books or staring at a screen can seem less glamorous, less meaningful at the best or the worst of times. Why am I a pastor again? I could have been a banker, or in my case, a lawyer. Now, I’m just a pastor. Or am I?
In 2 Timothy 4 verse 1, Paul presents/offers an antidote to the notion of the preaching office as some mundane, triviality destined for those lacking the resilience to have finished more conventional (and more lucrative) career paths. In concentrated Pauline effusions, he crystallizes what I consider the essence, lifeblood and marrow of efficacy and longevity in the preaching ministry. It is a philosophy many today consider archaic and simplistic. Some churches and denominations have dispensed of it. Some seminaries and bible colleges in Europe and elsewhere have done away with it; have or are replacing it with novel and more engaging methodologies. But Paul insists, it is the only thing necessary.
You relationship with the Bible is an indicator of your health as preacher. Are you convinced of the extraordinary nature of the bible? Is it to you just a book like other books? “No! “Says Paul. It is an exceptional book; beyond challenge; its message destiny altering. What a remarkable testimony is implicit in this text on the nature, character, and power of what we now call the Bible. But on what do I base my praise of this book? How do I substantiate, justify my inflexible insistence upon the supernatural quality of the Bible? Well, it’s right there. It’s always been and always will be. But let’s limit ourselves to the text in front of us. How does the apostle Paul frame his introduction? What are his topics? Well, they are the most sublime; the most transcendent words in the whole of the bible.
There is Nothing Ordinary about God’s Presence
Paul locates his view of scripture in the realm of the divine or as he puts it: “in the presence of God, AND the Lord Jesus Christ”. Now, right there we have a statement on the deity of Christ. Christ is in the presence of God. But there is more: God is present everywhere. Why do I say so? Where is Paul- in heaven or on earth? Where is God? Who is Paul speaking to? Timothy. And where is he? In heaven or on earth? Yet, who is present in Paul’s mind when he charges Timothy? Where are they located spiritually? Where does this charge happen? “Before God …and the Lord Jesus Christ”. A most remarkable statement of the fact of the deity Christ as well as of the omnipresence of God the Father and the Son, if ever there was one. Clear. Perspicuous.
There is nothing ordinary, regular, common, or insignificant about the ministry of THE WORD. The significance of an event is characterized by the stature of those who attend it. Do you agree? Are we in consensus that a good strategy to promote your fundraiser is to have some celebrity present? We need a magnet to attract people. The president of the USA and most other presidents have certain events that are a priority. One such an event happened on Sunday 15 December 2013. What happened on that date? That was the day a funeral took place in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa. The president of the USA and others heads of state and dignitaries had to attend. President Obama did not send a delegate to represent him. He could have done so. Delegation is a regular and normal part of protocol. Not this time. They cancelled whatever was on their calendars for those few days and flew to South Africa; to pay their respects. They do not attend ANY funeral. My point is: Where is God present? Which occasion does He grace with his presence? And the answer is: At the charging or commissioning of Timothy; at the appointment of a follow up; a delegate of the apostle; a man of God; a servant called to Preach The Word. God shows up when you are charged with, respond to and labor in the call to PREACH THE WORD! God always shows up at events and occasions that are important to him. When TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED TOGETHER IN HIS NAME, Jesus shows up. You and I are thinking it is just “church”. Jesus says: I want to and must be there with those two or three. Your charge, your call is an event, an occasion of cosmic proportions. There is nothing ordinary about it. It is God-endorsed!! It is an event that both God the Father and God the Son attends to in person.
“Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There is a somber element, a seriousness timber to this charge. It is not celebratory. That comes later. The context in which Paul frames this occasion is not a popular one. This will not get you on television or catapult you to best selling author status. Why not? What am I referring to? Bear with me. It is a topic almost wholly avoided by mainstream Christianity for the past twenty years although earlier it was a regular topic, albeit abused. I am talking about the word … judgment. Not nice! The charge to Timothy is framed in the context of divine presence and divine judgment: “… God … will judge the living and the dead …”. Ministry has an eschatological perspective. We ministers operate within and from a view of time that transcends “normal” time. Ministers of the word believe in the reality of the appearing or return of the Lord Jesus Christ and of Christ’s kingdom. Paul did. So did Timothy. Peter did too. Why do you want to disagree? Or hold to different view. You may of course but that myopic view of life would just be foolish and dangerous. The reality Paul impresses upon Timothy is that he ought to preach the word in light of the reality of God and of His judgment! This verse (and there are others) teaches us that no one escapes. Those who are alive will be judged. Those who have died will be judged. There is justice after all. But why speak of judgment in the context of commissioning?
Making Known God’s Inescapable Reality
The minister of the word, through the instrumentation of that word, prepares men, women and children to deal with and eventually to face the inescapable reality of God in this life and the next. Herein lies part of the loftiness of the call; part of the significance of being a minister. Those who labor diligently in the preaching ministry do so with the opportunity and responsibility to influence the eternal destiny of people. A work that is simultaneously tremendous and terrible.
So as you’re sitting in your study week by week this year (and years to come), in those moments when discouragement stalks you like a manic fan and you see so little fruit among the congregants, remember 2 Timothy 4 verse 1 and know, you’re NOT “just a pastor”.