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by Hilary Tompkins
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4 ways to pastor by faith
How does a pastor walk by faith and not by sight? How should walking by faith infuse a pastor’s approach to preaching, evangelism, church discipline, and church vision?
To walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) is to trust God despite what we see. God is good at helping us remember to do this.
When my wife and I decided to move to Vermont, I came up with our two daughters, but Becky stayed in Nashville, because our house there had not sold and we needed her income to cover the mortgage. About nine months later, I was falling apart. The toll of adjusting to a new place, pastoring a new church, and being a “single” dad was taking effect. And Becky was struggling too, heartsick over our separation and confused as to why God would call us somewhere only to prevent us the provision of getting there together. We couldn’t see the future. Our faith was shaking.
One evening Becky and I were on the phone, commiserating. She could tell I was not doing well. “You need to talk to somebody,” she said.
“I’m not going to do that,” I said.
“You need to call Dale,” she said.
Elder Dale is a dear friend and a man I greatly respect in our church. I know he always has my back. I can be myself around him. But I wasn’t going to call him.
“What would I say?” I asked Becky. “That after just nine months of being your pastor, I’m already burned out? That would go over real well.”
I was living by sight.
After we hung up, I laid there in my bed, exhausted, and pathetic. I started to cry. Not too much later, the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was Elder Dale.
When I picked up the phone to say hello, Dale said, “Hey, how are you? I just had the feeling I ought to call and check.”
This was a wonderful reminder not just that Elder Dale was looking out for me, but that God was. He was reminding me that perception is not reality. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus said (John 20:29).
To walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) is to trust God despite what we see.
I laid everything out, and soon a plan was underway. I was advised to tell Becky to give her notice at work and prepare to join her family in Vermont. So I did. And church members began pitching in to cover our mortgage each month.
The problem with pastoring by sight is not just that it places hopes in things that can be taken away, but it neglects to hope for what only God can give. Pastoring by sight negates faithful watchfulness and expectancy. And it keeps us timid.
Here are four areas where pastoring by faith can make all the difference in the world:
1. Faith in preaching
People will always hear what you haven’t said. Or they will hear the minor points and miss the major ones. The same people will come to church week in and week out, hear the gospel repeatedly, sometimes for years, and never show the slightest indication of being moved to trust Christ with their lives in the least. Do we give up? Figure it’s not working? Try another approach? No, we keep preaching, in the faith that God will give a harvest in his timing.
2. Faith in evangelism
Knowing that the Spirit softens whom he will is a confidence-booster in personal evangelism, because it reminds us that the result is not dependent on us. Certainly we want to be kind and winsome, and also bold and articulate. But our responsibility in evangelism is to scatter the seed, not produce the harvest. It can be tempting to give up when we notice no observable results. But knowing that God’s purposes in raising dead souls will be fulfilled helps us evangelize by faith, not by sight.
Pastoring by sight neglects to hope for what only God can give.
3. Faith in church discipline
For pastors seeking to formally discipline a church member in accordance with the Scriptures, the unknown can be a terrifying thing. How will this process end up? What we desire is repentance and restoration. We wish we’d never been put in this position to begin with. Most of us do not like conflict very much and wish to avoid it at all costs. But knowing that God is sovereign helps us to obey him with meekness and courage, trusting that his church will survive. We can discipline by faith, not by sight.
4. Faith in church vision
I lose sleep over how my church is doing. Why? Because I’m a good pastor? Maybe. But it also might be because I think that how my church is doing ultimately depends on me, because I think I’m sovereign. This is the core sin of the workaholic and the perpetually anxious—self-sovereignty. The reality is likely that your church will do just fine without you. They can get another pastor. And if you have arranged things in such a way that your church can’t survive without you, it is certainly unhealthy and requires less of you, not more. Pastor, shepherd your church by faith, not by sight. Some ways you might need to do this include delegating responsibilities, going to bed at a reasonable hour, taking naps, observing the Sabbath, and using your vacation time.