Grace and the Pastor’s Work

The pastor functioning as a servant and brother knows that work is the operative word for his calling: the pastor is a working model for his people. Like Epaphroditus he may be called to labor in self-giving right to the door of death (Phil 2:28–30), to study diligently as a scribe of the kingdom (Matt 13:32; 2 Tim 2:15), and to agonize in prayer for men (Col 2:1–3; 4:12–13).

On a daily basis, this means that self-indulgence must be put to death in the pastor. Self-indulgence represents a special and continuing temptation to the pastor because his time is largely in his own hands. It takes the form of physical laziness and sluggishness of spirit, which readily fosters fear. Personal timidity and physical exhaustion often seem to issue from the poisoned conscience of the slothful man.

It works like this: the pastor neglects his calling in the community, grows weary of study and finds his preaching and teaching a burden. He also thinks he needs more sleep. And his fear of people grows.

Other sins soon spin out of his disobedient life. Legalistic penance, wheel-spinning, the aggressive pushing of secondary causes in the church, the neglect of matters of first importance—he indulges in it all.

To be rid of this burden of self-indulgence, go to Christ, the perfect Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1–2). By faith hand the sins over to Him. Be specific as you confess your transgressions, and then trust in His forgiveness. He promises it (1 John 1:8–10).

If this does not bring fundamental help, ask your elders to pray for you, acknowledging your tendency to self-indulgence. At the same time, ask the Lord to search out your hearts for related sins, such as daydreaming and fantasizing.

What you may learn is that the pride that keeps you daydreaming is the fundamental cause of your laziness. You may have been too proud to let the Lord search you and root out your pet sins, whatever they were.

But be comforted. The Holy Spirit will help you (Psa 139:23–24). Christ will write the Father’s laws and love on your heart (Ezek 36:24–25). And remember, repentance is normal for the believer, his way of responding to Christ and drawing near to the Father (Luke 15:20–24).

Sincere and swift repentance of sinful habits and attitudes can transform the ministry of the most discouraged, ineffectual pastor. Imagine for a moment a young minister who arrives at his study late, already feeling guilty because he has not begun the day in earnest prayer. Usually, the despair produced by habitual sins like these causes him to fritter away his entire time. But today he faces his sins head on. He begins his time by looking to Christ for help. He labors in prayer until he has experienced His cleansing and then seeks God’s wisdom in preparing his Sunday sermon (James 1:5–8).

This time, his preparation does not consist solely of an exegesis of the passage and the writing of the sermon text. Instead, the pastor relates his calling as servant and brother to his preaching. He makes a list of several people who concern him, people he suspects may be unconverted or believers with special needs. He then takes time to pray for them.

Afterwards, he returns to the shaping of the sermon in view of the needs of the men and women for whom he has just prayed. He gives up his academic vocabulary and the elements of bookish didacticism as he thinks of their souls. Illustrations come to mind as he mentally reasons from Scripture with these lost and straying sheep. With eyes of faith he sees them—and he will have their souls for God!

By the time he leaves his study, he cannot wait until Sunday to preach. That afternoon, he calls on these people to minister to them in their homes. He is becoming a man who preaches the Word in season and out, and his pulpit and his study are fused into a continuum: in the study he drinks of the gospel as a thirsty sinner, and in the pulpit he pours forth the overflow to other sinners like himself (John 7:37–39).

The pastor is on his way to becoming, like Paul, a model for witness to his people. He begins by seeking the knowledge of Christ from Scripture, a knowledge which so fills him with the love of God that old sins and habits are displaced by a new fulness. Though lazy and filled with fears, he brought forth both failings to Christ, seeking the strengthening of his faith.

This is the key: strengthening the Christian leader by faith. “The just shall live by faith” must include the pastor’s whole life, for it is this that enables him to concentrate his energies, define goals, repent of sins and honestly face up to his own limitations. It is this that makes him a fruit-bearing disciple, eager to have answers to prayer through his own preaching, to have lives come under the power of the gospel. 

He is not content with a vague concept of “edification”—he prays for his hearers to be brought to a full knowledge of the Father and the Son (John 17:3). And by dealing with his own sins of pride, fear, laziness and lust, he is able to make the message powerfully concrete.

The pastor whom God has made a model for witness is one whose character is inseparably intertwined with his faith in the gospel message. If he did not have confidence in its power to change him, the awareness of his own sins would crush his ministry. But as he leaves his idols to serve Christ, he discovers that the message purifies his heart through faith, and liberates him from all his guilty fears (2 Cor 3:16–18; 1 Thess 1:9–10; John 3:1–3). He is a man set free to serve a living God.

C. John “Jack” Miller, Evangelism & Your Church, 58–61.

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