"God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Gen. 45:7-8).
"Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28
During the days of my first pastoral appointment—when I was still a divinity school student at Duke University—I was being mentored by a crusty, old pastor named Jefferson Davis. Jeff was at once genuine, thoughtful and caring, while also portraying a brutally honest, rough-rider image that frequently left me scratching my head. Jeff was the kind of mentor a guy such as myself needed during those early days of pastoral work, when I was still cutting my teeth on hospital visits, budget spreadsheets and learning how to organize a worship service. When I did something well, Jeff praised me. When I lagged behind or offered words or ideas that were unhelpful, Jeff prodded me gently with questions and usually offered constructive criticism. In short, Jeff helped me immensely, due in large part because of his many gifts.
He also taught me the importance of pastoral vision—not necessarily vision in the broadest sense (the grand scheme of things, or God's plan for creation)—but the importance of pastoral vision and clarity when it comes to understanding people, their motives or the reasons behind the decisions they make. Jeff held out a vision for people's lives. When people had lost their ability to envision hope or promise in their families, their jobs or their communities, Jeff offered his pastoral vision, his understanding of God's grace and good news.
This is the type of vision that is most often expressed in the gospels, a vision that has deep implications for pastoral leadership, especially as we attempt to pattern our ministries after the life and teaching of Jesus.
I saw this firsthand in the way Jeff handled many challenges and some very tough situations.
One memory, in particular, always has stayed with me.
Late one afternoon, as we were driving back from our hospital visitation, Jeff decided to drop by the church office to pick up his mail. We were both surprised to find several cars in the parking lot—an odd time of day for a meeting, we thought.
Entering the church, we quickly discovered the reason for the gathering. It seems several men of the church had taken it upon themselves to become a moral police, and they were focusing on one family in the community that had a bad reputation. Their ideas were startling, as some of the men seemed intent on keeping a close eye on the family to make sure they didn't try to infiltrate the church. These men viewed this family as a threat, and their vision was based on fear rather than faith.
As an outsider in the community, I realized many of the issues they were discussing had long history, and there was more than bad blood between some of these men and certain members of the notorious family. I scarcely could have intervened or offered any helpful vision. However, I wasn't Jeff Davis.