A couple of years ago, I studied at Elnora Bible Institute. Those 8 months of intensely studying the Bible gave my spiritual growth a well-placed kick in the pants and, when I came home, I was excited about seeing God work in my church. But somehow home didn’t satisfy. After that spiritual feast, the preaching at my church tasted like soggy oatmeal: probably edible, rarely exciting. I struggled to appreciate our pastors’ hard work because they didn’t meet my unreasonable ideals.
It’s easy to fall into “pastor-discontentitis,” because for most of us, our pastors aren’t the eloquent, in demand-book-writing type. That’s because God designed Christianity to play out in local congregations led by local pastors. How – we ask – could God make such an obvious blunder? Did he fail business management class? Certainly God could have found better leaders than a bunch of local amateurs! But God, as it turns out, is in the habit of using ordinary men for his purposes.
An ordinary calling
The 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith puts it this way: “it is the intention of Christ that there should be shepherds in His congregations to feed the flock, to serve as leaders, to expound the Word of God, [. . .] and in general to function as servants of the church.” 1
“Servant of the church” doesn’t sound very glamorous does it? The description conjures up images of a spiritual janitor rather than an eloquent orator. The Bible uses words like servant and shepherd because a pastor is responsible to care for and tend to his flock. When a local church chooses one of their own, they benefit because this leader knows them intimately from the start.
The Confession states that “ordination is accompanied by a laying-on of hands, symbolic of the church assigning responsibility and of God imparting strength for the assignment.” 2 That is to say, God’s call normally comes through the church. The church calls a man; God strengthens him. The well-worn maxim holds true: “God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” As a pastor’s kid myself, I watched my dad struggle with his calling when the church tapped his shoulder – and I saw how God provided the strength he needed, when he needed it.
Paul wrote to both Timothy and Titus – young pastors themselves – describing the qualifications of a pastor. In one sense, anybody can be a pastor: balding or baby-faced, prosperous or penniless, a doctor or a dropout. But when it comes to matters of character, the man must be exceptional. In Paul’s words, he must be “above reproach.” 3 Character does not result from good breeding or gritty exertion, but from letting God’s Spirit work in one’s heart. A man of character is first humble; he understands his position before God.
Pastors must be steady men. Men who pray. Men who love the Word. Every pastor who has significantly affected my life has been marked by this character. Not all have been well-educated or excellent speakers, but each was a man drenched in the Word.
As church members, we do well to consider a man’s heart before we ordain him. Some men are natural leaders; others may speak well or carry themselves with a pastoral bearing. But if these men do not hunger after the Word of God and seek his face, then they are not suitable for leadership.
A preacher or a minister?
When we think about pastors, preaching always comes to mind first, but preaching is only one piece of God’s intent. It is certain that a leader who does nothing more than preach does not lead at all. Imagine a shepherd who shows his sheep the grass, but never bothers to check on them – his flock would quickly be reduced to lamb sandwiches! In the same way, a pastor must keep watch, must disciple, must encourage those in his care. Heb. 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” 4
My dad is learning how to fill his pastoral shoes, and watching him has taught me a lot about godly leadership. If books and prayers are a measure of dedication, my dad has invested a lot. I’ve seen him face church division and unkind accusations and many hard, lonely days with humble grace. On countless Saturday nights I have gone to sleep while his light shone on – only to find him still up the next morning, agonizing and wrestling with the message God laid upon his heart. I’ve seen all that pastoring led him to sacrifice, and all it has given him in return: gray hair, certainly, but also a deep love for our church and a lot of faith in God’s faithfulness. (Is paying our pastors an appropriate response to their sacrifice? We cover that topic here.)
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” 5 So instead of complaining, let’s try remembering: remembering to pray for our pastors, to thank them, to honor them, and to encourage them. Our pastors deserve – and need – our support. Even better, what if we actually chose to imitate their example? God is using these ordinary men to make us more like himself — and that is extraordinary!
|Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.
- “Mennonite Confession of Faith, 1963”. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Accessed March 27, 2017.
- The Holy Bible, ESV. 1 Timothy 3:2. Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2008.
- The Holy Bible, ESV. Hebrews 13:17. Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2008.
- The Holy Bible, ESV. Hebrews 13:7. Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2008.