In the fall of 2012 my wife and I loaded up a U-Haul and left Livingston, Alabama for Kansas City, Missouri. The previous May we had both decided to continue our schooling at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I began pursuing a Masters of Divinity and Candace started working on her Master of Arts in Counseling.
When we first arrived, I remember feeling so excited that I was finally taking the first steps toward pastoral ministry. I loved (and still do) the idea of serving the Lord Jesus as an under-shepherd in one of His churches, caring for the flock through sound biblical teaching and prayers and love for the believers there.
To me, this was a beautiful and compelling vision for the pastoral vocation. As Lee Eclov has stated, what lies at the heart of pastoral ministry is a genuine care for souls and I was eager to begin.
Fast-forwarding to the winter of 2014, the Lord graciously allowed me to begin serving as an associate pastor in a smaller town here in Missouri. This is where the care of souls would move from a theoretical vision in my mind to an absolute reality in my life. And honestly, most days I feel completely inadequate for the task. But the Lord has been incredibly kind and the people incredibly gracious. And just in this small time, the Lord has taught me several things. Here are a few…
1. Many people are carrying an incredible weight of suffering.
During my time here I have been to a funeral for a baby born prematurely, witnessed cancer ravage the lives of once vibrant adults, listened to couples who are struggling to stay committed to their marital vows, spent time with a family whose dad lost his job for sharing his faith, stood helplessly by as drugs and alcohol lured others into its destructive stranglehold, and have prayed with parents and grandparents who are distraught over the spiritual well-being of their children and grandchildren. I wish this list was exhaustive. It isn’t. In some of these cases, the suffering is evident. In others, it remains hidden underneath a smile and a polite handshake prior to the worship service beginning.
These experiences have confirmed for me the old adage, Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
2. The church is a blessing, not a curse.
The “institutional” church, does not exactly get a lot of good press these days. And sometimes this is justifiable. Yet despite that, I know of church members who routinely jump in to help widows by performing the constant maintenance needs that come with having a home or by cutting their grass (oh, and they never ask to be recognized). I also know of members who are vigilant in their prayers for others and who sacrifice financially to give to our church and the work of missionaries around the world. One group of ladies here meet every Wednesday to fill out cards and put together care packages for those in our community who are lonely, sick, or hurting.
Every so often we have young parents bring their children before the church so that we can pray for them and hold them accountable to their commitment to raise their children in a way that honors the Lord.
But of course, one of the warmest blessings of the church is when, on each Lord’s Day, despite the seeming chaos all around us, the saints gather to worship their Savior and King, Jesus Christ. Some of these believers are wearied by life’s trials, yet they come faithfully to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9-10) and to hear His precious Word preached and exalted.
3. The good news of Jesus Christ is the healing balm our souls need.
Dealing with death is an unfortunate and frequent part of pastoral ministry. My heart aches as I think through some of the families in our church who have dealt with incredible loss just this past year. Yet, something strange happens to my soul in these situations. Though death is always bitter, the gospel grows sweeter still. We have a Savior who was not overcome by death. Instead, He conquered it. This same King has promised life immortal for those who trust in His finished work. But not only has Jesus given us the promise of eternal life, He has promised His abiding presence to all those who are in Him (John 15). As an under-shepherd, I have learned that the best thing I can do for the people in our church is tirelessly point them toward the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
In these first few years, these words from the lips of our Savior have proven themselves true time and time again:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” -Matthew 11:28-29
Grace and Peace,
The image above was borrowed from Richard Walker and can be found here. This image was resized for this post.