To save the sheep from wild beasts and all other dangers is not to feed them; and if they are not fed, what matters whether they are safe or not? What is the good of being saved to starve? We must be saved in health and strength, unto maturity and power to reign with Christ in His Kingdom. And for that we must be fed. Every temptation to be sidetracked from the task of eternity which is the task of the hour--your hour--must be seen in relation to the finished product. What is the end of what you are doing? The God-appointed end?
Be encouraged. Be encouraged in the midst of ministerial duties that are mind-numbingly mundane. Be encouraged in a world drunk on the sweet nectar of the spectacular. Be encouraged when you preach the gospel clearly. Be encouraged after years of faithfulness, even if you don’t have numbers that impress conference organizers. Be encouraged in the tedium. Be encouraged when you see the same faces week-in and week-out. Be encouraged as you marry and bury, counsel and speak at the local lodge’s spring pancake breakfast. Be encouraged.
Be encouraged when dreams of thousands have careened against the retaining wall of reality with hundreds. Or dozens, even. Be encouraged when no one has heard of you, your church, or your town. Be encouraged in the midst of decline. Be encouraged when you must stop preparing your sermon to clean the bathrooms. Be encouraged, because you stand before God redeemed and loved because of Christ’s righteousness credited to you. Be encouraged, for this right standing before God is not based on the success of your ministry, loved no less because it is ordinary. Be encouraged, ordinary pastor.
Be encouraged when growth is slow and measured by generations. Be encouraged when guilt, fear, and the specter of failure form an unholy alliance against you. Be encouraged when young men grown fat on the feast of podcasts question your every move. Be encouraged when no one knows your name; it is written in blood in the book of life. Ordinary pastor, be encouraged: Your faithful labor in the darkened forest of obscurity is heroic...Really, the phrase “ordinary pastor” is a misnomer. For all who pastor by the power of the gospel do extraordinary work: preaching the Word, comforting the hurting, baptizing, and administering the Lord’s Supper. It is all extraordinary. After all, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” This way, “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). No wonder, then, the extraordinary is in the ordinary.
I know that you’re familiar with this story and that you know that its ultimate fulfillment is in the promised Messiah. But this morning this story spoke to my heart in this way: I could look at the weakness and barrenness of my life. Those were, indeed, true realities. In response, I could get out my list, my sticky-notes, and devise ways of feeling better about myself. To switch back to our patriarch’s story, I could go visit Hagar. Or I could give glory to God knowing that even though I am still so very weak, so very barren of true love for my neighbor, God had already promised me that I would be fruitful and that my life would somehow count. How? Only through faith in the righteousness of another. It was in this process of rehearsing God’s promises to me, of giving him glory for his wonderful mercy, grace, and kindness, that my heart was changed and I walked out into faith again.
Every morning . . . every moment of every day . . . I have a choice to make. I can trust in my heart’s default position: Work it out, work harder, prove I’m better, show that I do love my neighbor, engage with Hagar and my sticky-notes. Or, I can rest in his promise that even though I look at myself and realize that for me it’s been nearly 40 years since I first believed the promise, the One who is able to speak into existence things that don’t exist, has declared that I am righteous now and that this faith is enough now. It must be enough or I can’t breathe. That was the choice for me today and it’s the choice we all face every day.
It is to feed sheep on such truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God.