Ezekiel 34:2 (NIV)
Woe to you shepherds who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
Romans 12:7 (NIV)
If your gift is serving, then serve.
The month of October is observed in some places as Pastor Appreciation Month. I was delightfully surprised to receive a very special work of art from the children of the Early Childhood Center one Sunday in October. I am thankful, too, for a gift card from the church, as well as gifts from several members. Those reminders of God’s faithfulness and ability to use one such as me to serve his people and the cause of his kingdom are welcome and appreciated. I will confess, also to having a “KEEPERS” file in which I save notes, cards, and emails that speak words of appreciation and encouragement to me.
These words from God through Ezekiel and St. Paul speak to the other side of that coin. Jesus says, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:49). Here God is speaking to me and all others given the responsibility of shepherding his people. This isn’t to be a cushy job, designed to allow you to hide behind your collar, remain aloof, pontificate, or manipulate people for your celebrity status, financial benefit, or personal satisfaction. This is not about you. This is about serving my people. This calling is both a privilege and a burden.
Admittedly, it is virtually impossible to serve Christ and his church and mission with totally pure motives. That is why I need the message of the cross as much as anyone. Martin Luther’s sacristy prayer says it well:
Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon You Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.
The task of serving as a pastor in the church of 2015 is a decidedly complex and challenging one. There are financial, governance, social, cultural, and legal constraints and realities all of which surround the care of God’s people. It is impossible to serve in a medium to large size church and preach the gospel in a vacuum that does not touch on one or all of these realities. But there is no greater privilege in this world than to serve as a shepherd of God’s people. I think I will use Luther’s Sacristy prayer today in earnest.