From time to time, regardless of one’s vocational roles or responsibilities, it is good to stop and examine why we do what we do. This especially holds true for those of us who have been called to the task of pastoral ministry.
I’m calling this article a gut check because that’s exactly what it was for me after reading a few portions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” (highly recommended reading for pastors and laypersons). In one section he records that pastors are not given charge of a congregation by God in order to become their accuser before God. The point that he’s trying to convey is that our job as pastors is not to continually complain or grumble about our congregation over how carnal they are or how immature they are or how underdeveloped their theology is or how our task would be so much easier if they would just get with the program already. It is indeed a scary thing to realize that at times we may have more resemblance to Satan (the accuser par excellence) than we do to the Shepherd, Jesus Christ, when it comes to the way in which we relate to our congregations. Bonhoeffer also warns that we should be very careful in complaining about our congregation to others.
So, here is the gut check. Brother-pastor, do you love the people whom God has placed under your care? I mean it. Do you actually, really, truly, honestly love them? Do you consider it your privilege to shepherd them or your duty?
How can we know?
Here are some indicators to gauge whether or not you love your congregation.
1. Do you delight in them?
By this I do not mean that you try to ignore things about people which annoy you. There are certain traits which will grate against our personality (just as you have traits which will grate against certain personalities within the congregation).
Rather, what I mean is, when you look out over your congregation, your heart should be filled with joy as you see them as ones for whom Christ died. Week after week a miracle takes place where you meet to gather. Men and women born into sin and in enmity against God gather together to sing His praises. This is purely the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in this we can take great delight. Viewing our congregation as the souls for whom Christ died will do wonders in helping us be more gracious in how we seek to shepherd them (Just as seeing you as one for whom Christ died will enable them to be gracious to you when you do bone-headed things… which you have and will). Paul’s letters are filled with gratitude as he thinks about God’s work in the lives of the people to whom he writes (e.g. Philippians 1:3-8).
2. Are you concerned for them?
What I mean is, are you anxious that they remain in Christ (John 15), that they not fall into false teaching, or that they give way to besetting sins? This concern expresses itself in a variety of ways:
First, do you pray for them regularly?
Second, do you prepare your sermons with an aim toward helping them understand what the Bible really says or with an aim toward making yourself sound good?
Third, are you willing to confront false teaching?
Fourth, are you ready to pursue straying members?
These are just a few that immediately come to mind, though I’m sure you can think of more.
3. Do you desire to see them grow?
It is the delight of parents to watch their children develop skills and slowly gain the ability to perform new tasks. So it should be with the pastor. The declaration of the apostle John in his third epistle should also be the heart cry of those in pastoral ministry, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).
Brother-pastors, you and I have the unspeakable privilege of shepherding God’s people! So, let us do so gladly and willingly (1 Peter 5:1-3) and not under any sense of emotionless compulsion.
Pastor, do you love your people?