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4 liberating truths for those who pastor
These four liberating truths are great to apply to those we pastor, but it is important also to apply them to ourselves as pastors.
For the most part, our pastoral interventions go wrong not because we lack technique or knowledge or experience. The main reason our pastoral interventions go wrong is that we as pastors have failed truly to believe one of these four truths about God. To state the obvious, there are two sinners involved in any pastoral relationship; the person with the presenting issue is not the only one in the relationship with issues!
So consider the implications of our not believing these four truths as we pastor others.
1. God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
Effects of a faithless response. We will be over-controlling, the arbiter of truth. We will want immediately to correct every error for fear people might go astray or that we might lose control, so we do not give people time to grow. When we speak truth to people’s lives, we will be intense and overbearing because we want to solve the problem. We fear what might happen to others, so we talk at them. We do not give them space to change or to disagree.
Also, we might become risk averse. We will not take risks with people or situations because we fear things will go wrong. We might be indecisive, because we fear making the wrong choice. We might slip into a form of clericalism in which we will not trust others to do God’s work because we fear they might do it wrong, or we may micromanage.
Effects of faithful response. Our pastoral care will be relaxed and patient. We will give people space to change and time to grow. When we talk with people, we will not feel the need to sort everything out in one go. We will give them a chance to talk and space to disagree. At the same time, we will be able to take risks because we trust the outcomes to God’s sovereign care. We will give away power and responsibility because we do not think everything depends on us.
2. God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
Effects of a faithless response. If not trusting the greatness of God leads to over-pastoring, then not fearing our glorious God will lead to under-pastoring. If we fear people more than we fear God, then we might be reluctant to speak the truth. We will not confront people because we are worried they might dislike us or reject us. We might avoid difficult decisions to prevent upsetting people. Or we might second guess what people are thinking, because we are trying to anticipate what will please them. In discussions a fearful person will often glance at others to gauge their reaction.
Or we might treat sin not in relation to a holy God but in terms of what others think of it. In other words, respectability will matter more than holiness. We will treat public sins more seriously than other sins because we are driven by people’s opinions.
Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love.
Another potential symptom is that we gravitate toward activities that are up front. If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion. We become a slave to praise. Or there is a gap between our public and private persona. The holiness that matters to us is public holiness.
Effects of faithful response. If we believe God is glorious and that he is to be feared, then we will not be controlled by other people. Only then, in fact, are we truly free to serve them in love. When we are controlled by the opinions of others, we do for them so we can win their good opinion. Our actions are self-serving. Our aim is a good reputation. Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love. Then we are free to speak the truth people need to hear, not what they want to hear, and we ourselves can be vulnerable before others, rejoicing in God’s vindication or justification.
3. God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
Effect of a faithless response. If we do not believe that God is good and the one who truly satisfies, then we might be reluctant to serve, do the minimum, or serve begrudgingly or with a sense of compulsion. We may view ministry as a burden. People might find us unapproachable because they pick up signals that we do not want to be bothered. We may look for satisfaction in other things or not stick to tasks we dislike or always move on to a new thing. We will not do the hard work of pastoral care; we will not do the hard work of hanging out with people we are not naturally attracted to or challenging people’s behavior. We will avoid difficult conversations and messy people. Instead we will be interested in doing only what is fun.
Effects of faithful response. If, however, we find joy in God, then we will serve with passion and enthusiasm. We will be characterized by generosity, simplicity, and energy. Our lives will be winsome and welcoming.
4. God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.
Effects of a faithless response. We might find our identity in ministry rather than in Christ and so overwork or make others guilty through our high expectations. Or we might envy others whose ministry is more successful or take pride in our success. We ourselves will take criticism badly, being defensive or defeated, because our identity is tied up in our achievements and not in Christ’s achievements on our behalf. There is a danger that our lives can become so busy and stressed because we are trying to prove ourselves that we do not model good news to people.
If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion.
We will be functional legalists who think behavior matters more than motives, who want to avoid mess in favor of respectability, or who condemn those who do not measure up. We will impose a set of expectations on other people that wear them down under the weight of joyless duty. If we do not believe God is gracious, then we will not want our sins to be exposed, so we may not ask people hard questions about their spiritual life for fear of being asked in return.
Effects of a faithful response. If we rest on the grace of God and find our identity in Christ, then our lives and ministry will be characterized by peace and rest, joy and freedom, confidence and humility, compassion and kindness. We will not rejoice when others fail. Our concern will be to bless rather than to impress. We will not need the affirmation of other people, and we will be free from the need to defend ourselves. There will be a transparency and vulnerability about our lives because we do not feel the need to hide our sin. We will create a context in which other people feel able to share their struggles.
This article is adapted from Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.