Yesterday I got a phone call from a friend of mine who is also a member of our church. He wanted my counsel. He felt like the Lord touched his heart through the message on Sunday, and he wanted my opinion about a decision that would not only directly affect his family but also several others as well.
Last week a family invited us to lunch. Both the husband and wife are battling separate issues that together threaten the peace and harmony of an otherwise healthy relationship. The next day, a lady who has an unsaved husband requested that we stop by their house and pray for their marriage. The husband comes to services regularly but by all outward evidence, the enemy has completely blinded his mind to the glorious gospel of Christ. That’s not to mention the other times before and after services, let alone “chance” meetings at the café or on the street.
When I stop and consider the weight of these issues and decisions and the consequences my words may have on others’ lives and ultimately on the welfare of our church, my spiritual shoulders begin to sink. The complexity of the church dynamic doesn’t help much at all. People form families, and various families come together to form a church. All three walk on their spiritual journeys at varying rates. There are ups and downs, growth spurts and stagnations mixed in with blessings and battles.
So, pastors across the globe stand in the pulpit more than once throughout the week, humanly speaking, trying to play a three-level game of chess…too often with the feeling of being blindfolded. The fact that this has gone on for millennia doesn’t make the task any easier.
Well then, what should we do with this weight? What should we as pastors, as those that watch over these precious souls, as those “that must give account”; what should we do?
- Recognize God’s Sovereignty. It is an all-knowing and all-powerful God that has given us His flock to pastor. He, (not the pulpit committee, or deacon board, or unanimous vote of the whole church) chose by His perfect will to put us in that place. We should trust that we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to minister in and out of the pulpit. He wants us right where we are so that we can serve His sheep by encouraging them, by advising them, by praying with them and for them. He has established a bond of trust between the pastor and congregation; therefore, we must trust that this same almighty and sovereign God will guide us wisely.
- Realize That We Must Give Account. (from Heb. 13:17) While it is always unadvisable to preach to one person or family based on a private counseling session, that does not stop pastors from doing it. Some years ago a man told me that one Sunday his pastor preached against a particular aspect of a man’s appearance which had absolutely nothing to do with modesty. I thought it was sort of silly and petty, until he told me that he was the only person in the church who met the qualifications that the pastor preached against. The man left the church. That pastor will give an account for taking his personal preferences into the pulpit and making them appear as sound doctrine. We should never take lightly our awesome responsibility. “With great power comes great responsibility.” wrote Stan Lee (in Spiderman). He probably adapted it from FDR who said, “Today we have learned in the agony of war, that great power involves great responsibility.” But, FDR most likely got it from Jesus, who said, “…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48).
- React graciously. Even if we spend hours and hours counseling a family about one topic or another, even if we are explicit about our advice being biblical and even if we speak through experience, that doesn’t mean that the sheep always follow the shepherd. When they don’t, I have the hardest time not taking it personally. I have to pray, a lot and guard my heart so that I don’t make it about me….because it’s not. It wasn’t about me to begin with, but our pride wants to turn it into something that it’s not. Sometimes the toughest part about counseling someone for the 3rd and 4th time about the same issue is fighting back the desire to say, “You didn’t listen to me the first 3 times I tried to help you with this subject, why should I believe that you will listen this time?” Nope, that doesn’t fall under the heading of ministering “grace to the hearers.” Yet, neither does it mean that we don’t want to say it some times. The best thing to do is remember points one and two on this very list. I believe that it helps me react graciously knowing that God is in control. He knows all about it, and I don’t want to complicate the situation with regret over something that I want to say. Most times grace is like honesty – the best policy.