In 1538 John Calvin wrote in a letter to Henrich Bullinger, explaining his early difficulties in Geneva, that “…Geneva want preachers and teachers, but not pastors…” As a rector who understands his call to pastor his congregation, I know exactly what Calvin meant. In most congregations, the clergy perform the sacraments, visit the sick, teach from the front, provide leadership and focus for a common goal, are capable administrators, and are called upon to cast vision for a congregation, but they largely stay out of the day-to-day life of the people as pastors.
Calvin desired to perform a pastoral role among his flock, but they resisted.
Every Christian resists submitting sweetly to their pastor’s counsel and care. Why? It is the sinful rebellion with which every believer still struggles (Romans 7.14-25). As a Christian who fell into liberalism, I know this painful truth only too well! How costly it was for my soul to hear the Word but excuse myself from applying it to my life and to my heart, and steadily becoming self-deceived.
Every congregational member who begins to live his or her life in less and less harmony with what the Word of God reveals, becomes a the concern for a pastor way before the disharmony is noticeable to that congregational member, or reaches a personal crisis. These people are in my thoughts and prayers regularly, and when I pray for them I pray the same way I pray for myself before God for I am very aware that in 21 years of pastoral ministry nobody has given me more trouble than me. My number one reason to delay has always been fear. Prayer and time in the Scriptures has always been the way out.
As your pastor, I am called to approach a brother or sister in Christ with the burden God has placed on my heart. But, and it is a big one, I minister the cure of souls in a denomination where loving discipline only arises when secular law is breached. What an indictment for a pastor, that unbelievers should set the limits of our care rather than the more comprehensive limits of the Word of God! What then is the way forward for a pastor who loves the sinner but deeply grieves over their sin?
It is here, at the cure of souls, that the authenticity, humility and transparency of a pastor is absolutely vital. A pastor is, as it were, a lens. A lens that sharpens the focus of what can be missed by the parishioner. This can only be done if the pastor is transparent in personal holiness, drawing upon his resources in our Lord Jesus Christ. Humility is likewise essential when entering a spiritual battlefield. The pastor as lens is an instrument of Christ’s grace, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4.5). Christ must be shared clearly, gently and humbly. The fruit of our justification in Christ must be shared clearly, gently and humbly. Rejection is common. Unceasing prayer is essential.
I would like to write that such caring discipleship was usually effective. Failure for the pastor and rejection by the proud member is commonplace. Success for the pastor and humility in the penitent member is rare.
Pastors have been entrusted with the responsibility of being shepherds of God’s flock for which we will give an account to Christ (Hebrews 13.17). And what our people need most from us is personal holiness. Not dramatic giftedness, not forcefulness of personality, not increasing notoriety, but core scriptural conviction, and a crystal clear, unalloyed dependence upon God.