Monday, June 06, 2016

God's Plan for Churches and Pastors

Ephesians 4:11-15
It’s often said, rightly I think, that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Today, with Philip and Amy, and with you, the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, I want to share with you what I have learned from what may be the biggest failure of my nearly 32 years of pastoral ministry.

It’s a failure I have really only lately begun to see clearly, even though it should have been obvious to me and I should have addressed it a long time ago.

I can only ask God to forgive me for my past blindness and pray that you, Philip, and you, the people Saint Peter, will be spared having to fail yourselves to learn this lesson.

It’s a lesson which, if we will only be open to it, God gives to us repeatedly in His Word.

Let me bore you with a little background. Ann, Philip, and I went to our first parish in northwest Ohio when Phil was one day shy of his third birthday. I was nearly thirty-one, a newly certified and minted pastor and raring to go.

Within two months, our second child, Sarah, was born. At the time of Sarah's birth, our church had eleven people in hospitals scattered in an arc from Fort Wayne, Indiana up into Ann Arbor, Michigan. For people who aren’t from Texas, that’s a lot of territory. I visited all eleven people three times in five days!

But I was bound to prove myself. I wouldn’t have articulated it in this way, but I was going to be Super Pastor. Preacher on the spot. I was everywhere, doing everything. I decided that I would do the church’s ministry.

You know, a pastor can get a lot of compliments when they do everything. And I was getting them.

But within a few months, as I was visiting the parishioner of another congregation whose pastor asked me to drop by for a visit and prayer, I became ill and was rushed from the cardiac care unit where I was visiting, and sent to the hospital ER.

It turned out to be a stress reaction. My body was revolting against my ego.

Now, I don’t tell that story to prompt Phil to avoid stress or to advise the congregation to take it easy on my son. Doctors tell us that a certain amount of stress is good for us. They call it eustress and it prompts us to do our best, using all of the gifts God has given to us to God’s glory.

What I am saying is that my stress reaction was caused in large part by the fact that I was so bent on being Super Pastor that I neglected fulfilling the actual call God had given to me as a pastor, a minister of Word and Sacrament.

That was my failure. And it’s one that, to greater and lesser degrees, I have replicated more than a few times through the years.

What makes it such an epic fail is that by playing at Super Pastor, I was denying the whole congregation the opportunity to do the things that Christ might have been calling them to do. I thought I was doing the work of God. But really, I was so insecure about being a pastor, that I pulled out all the stops to prove myself to people, not to glorify God.

Now, we all know about do-nothing pastors. They think that justification by grace through faith in Christ is God’s license to sit around and do nothing. They practice a cheap grace and reason that since God loves them, they can do and not do whatever they please.

As I’ve told you many times, Philip, anyone who has been called to be a leader gains credibility as a leader as they make deposits of service, love, work, and faithfulness. The call to pastoral leadership is from Christ. Whether God makes our call to serve a congregation all that’s intended to be depends on whether we earn credibility from our deposits of service, love, work, and faithfulness, into the life of the community and the congregation we serve.

My mistake as a new pastor is that I was flailingly busy without thinking about what my true call from God was. I was missing the mark and the people I led, impressed though they may have been, were not being led as God intended for me to lead them.

Philip, don’t make this mistake.

Saint Peter, don’t let Philip drift into this mistake.

If you want this congregation to be all that God intends for it to be and if you want the partnership between congregation and pastor into which Philip is officially installed today to be what God wants, you must clearly understand your calls as pastor and congregation.

Our lesson from Ephesians 4:11-15 helps us to see what our calls as pastors and congregations are.

Please look at verse 11: “And he [that is, Christ Himself] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds [the word in the original Greek here is ποιμένας and we translate it as pastors]...”

Christ has established this office of pastor. Christ has made you a pastor of His Church, Philip. Christ has given you a pastor, people of Saint Peter. For those who think that Christ is long ago and far away, the calling of a pastor who personally trusts in Christ and views the Bible as the living Word of God by a congregation that has the same beliefs, is proof that Christ is very alive and at work!

And He will keep being at work in their life and work as congregation and pastor if they understand what Christ has called them to do. Take a look at verse 12, please: “[Christ gave pastors] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

Your mission as pastor of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, Philip, is to equip the people to be the Church.

That means empowering them, living alongside of them, teaching them, training them, and inspiring them to do the ministry.

It doesn’t mean that you’re to be the minister.

It means, to paraphrase the Augsburg Confession, that basic statement of Lutheran Christian belief, rightly teaching, preaching, and living the Gospel, the Word of God, and rightly administering the sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

The Church doesn’t need Super Pastors.

Christ doesn’t call anyone to be a Super Pastor.

Christ has called you, Philip, to work as a servant leader, teacher, preacher, comforter of the bereaved and the sick, and trainer so that the whole congregation can do ministry.

A strong tenet of Lutheran belief revolves around the priesthood of all believers explained in 1 Peter 2:9. Speaking to all Christians--laypeople and pastors, Peter says: “ are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The whole Church--laypeople and pastors--is called to tell the world about and to live out its faith in Jesus.

And your call, Philip, isn’t to do the ministries that God has called and empowered the people of your congregation to do, but to equip them, first by being a model, to do those ministries.

Our lesson from Ephesians then tells us what the goal of this equipping is.

Verse 13: “until we all [congregations and pastors] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

Do you all remember the sense of accomplishment, maybe relief, you felt the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or tied your shoes?

Or graduated from the sixth grade, then high school, maybe college, even grad school?

Or on your first day of a paid, honest-to-goodness W2-worthy job?

Or when you got a raise or promotion?

Beyond the money or the compliments that come from meeting such milestones, there is a deep-down sense of fulfillment that comes from them all. They make us feel like we’re growing up, like we're moving forward.

It’s a fundamental truth of life that we’re either growing or we’re dying; there’s no middle ground.

No responsible father keeps tying his kid’s shoe when the kid is thirty-five.

No good mom takes her daughter’s tests or fills in for her at work.

Super Parents like these would rob their kids of growth and fulfillment.

Just so, God wants us to grow in our faith into the fullness of Christ, living, in Luther’s phrase, as little Christs: people who love God and others passionately, people who can help others know Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, and people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can help others know the Word of God and apply it.

Your call, Philip, isn’t to be the token Christian who does all of this.

Your call is to multiply the impact the crucified and risen Jesus can have on every life by equipping the people of Saint Peter and yourself to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

If you focus on that, I promise that you’ll have more than enough work to do!

You’ll forgo having everyone think of you as Super Pastor. But you will sense God telling you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And people of Saint Peter, if you will allow yourself to be equipped for the life of ministry to which every believer in Jesus is called, you will know the joy and the fulfillment of living in sync with God, of growing up and knowing more of His blessings, and, most importantly, knowing Jesus Christ Himself.

Saint Peter, Amy, and Philip, I pray God’s blessings as you take your journey of faith in Christ together.

[This was shared during the installation of Philip Daniels as pastor of Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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