Dr. Clyde Francisco was teaching his Old Testament Survey class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary when he hesitated over the story of Elisha calling bears to attack some young men who were taunting the prophet (
Now, we get together at various pastor’s conferences and talk about how our favorite Bible passage is no longer
So, you go to God and tell Him how bad you have it trying to work with these people. If God only knew, how stubborn these people are . . . how self-centered and faithless . . . and how lucky God was that we are still faithfully striving to move these people into the kingdom. On any given Monday, pastor after pastor would be praying the same prayer, “Lord, why did you send me here to work with these people?”
While in one of those moods, I happened upon a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was martyred in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, in his book Life Together. Bonhoeffer writes, “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”1 The sentence stopped me cold. How many times had I done exactly that? Had I actually become the accuser of my people instead of their intercessor? I’m afraid I had.
Ministers are indeed caught in the middle. They stand before their people on behalf of God and before God on behalf of their people. I thought about Moses as he tried to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt’s slaver to the freedom of the Promised Land. On more than one occasion, God decided to destroy the nation and start over. Moses pleaded with God to spare the people, even offering his own life in their place. I wondered what would have happened if I had been Moses. I didn’t wonder long. If I had been Moses, the nation of Israel would have never made it out of the wilderness. When God said that he had decided to give up on Israel, I would have wondered what took God so long to come to that conclusion.
In his last charge to Simon Peter, Jesus told the disciple three different times to take care of his sheep – the church. That same charge has been given to every minister.
Our main responsibility is to love the church of Jesus and the people who make up his church – everyone of them.
That love begins by praying for your church. Praying for the leaders of the congregation, for parking lot greeters and ushers, for the choir and musicians, and for all of those who just show up on Sundays when its not too hot, not too cold, not raining or snowing and there’s nothing else going on in town – and pray for them as individuals, not as people who are filling roles in the life of the church. In our rush to get things done, we tend to value those people who get with the programs and see as “enemies” those people who either fail to support or even oppose our leadership. We forget they are people – people with real lives and real struggles.
The most noticeable change that happens when a pastor begins to pray for the church is that the pastor begins to hear the hearts of his people. In short, the pastor learns to listen rather than simply waiting to talk. When pastors listen, they hear stories of faith under pressure, of dysfunctional families being confronted, of people who have made unseen, but heroic stands in their careers and personal lives – and when pastors hear these stories, they realize God has been at work all around them, in every aspect of their church and sometimes the pastor is the last person to recognize it.
I have a friend who pastors a very successful church in South Carolina. During a study break, I went to see his church and listen to him preach. I was stunned by what I heard. By every standard of homiletics, he is a terrible preacher. His sermon had no real introduction and when he came to the end of his sermon, he literally looked at his watch and said, “I am out of time. We have come to the time of the invitation and here is what I want you to do.” As he closed the service, dozens of people came forward to become part of his congregation. I talked to him later about the worship service and he freely admitted that he really wasn’t that good of a preacher and that in fact, he really didn’t enjoy it that much. So, what was the secret? He looked at me almost embarrassed to answer. “I really love these people,” he said, “and I guess they feel that.” They felt it indeed. The church was so confident in their pastor’s fierce love of them that they showed up Sunday after Sunday and gave him permission to say anything he wanted to say to them. The sermon wasn’t so much a crafted piece of biblical communication as it was a sharing of stories between lovers.
The Samaritan woman at the well ran back to her village shouting, “Come and see a man who knows everything I have ever done.” The phrase that was printed was “Come see a man who knows everything I have ever done and loves me anyway. Perhaps the mark of a great preacher isn’t when the people leave the church saying “That was a great sermon,” but when the leave the service saying, “That preacher really loves us.”
Mike Glenn is the pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1954, p. 29.