The church I’m attending is looking for our next lead pastor. Two weeks ago, we said goodbye to the pastor who served this church for eight years. The farewell given to him, and his wife, was unlike anything I’ve seen in my life. Nearly 500 people gathered in the Family Life Center to send them both off to their next ministry. Deacons, elders, members and community leaders and even teenagers stood behind a mic to express their deep love for the two. They thanked the pastor and his wife for the attention they gave to each individual as though they were the most important person in the world. I felt that same love, and like so many there was a sense that when both the pastor and his wife spoke to you in the lobby or in an isle at Walmart, you were all that mattered to them. Others spoke of his impact in the community, and more spoke of his sound biblical teaching.
God’s Man for the Job
Having pastored my whole adult life, this is the first time I’ve joined others in waiting for the next man to lead the church. Some no doubt feel it more than I do, some less, but there is a collective level of anxiety as we wonder not just who he will be, but how long will it be before he comes. Sometimes these gaps between pastors can be good for a church. Until this past summer, I’d served for ten months as interim pastor in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) an hour from where we live, as they prepared for their next man. This interim period was good for the church. The elders led well, and from 1 Timothy I was able to preach a ten week series on how to be a gospel-centered church, and how to prepare for a gospel-driven pastor. By the time he showed up, the church was postured well to receive God’s man for the job.
Every Friday morning I meet with a neighbor for a conversation around a Bible text and for a time of prayer. This past Friday the text we studied led us to talk about our next pastor. (The neighbor attends the same church). I shared with him my three-fold prayer for the kind of pastor I believe is essential to lead a gospel-saturated and gospel-driven church.
A Gospel-Driven Pastor
First, he needs present Jesus to us as our Savior, not as our Life-Coach. In an effort to find a church home since leaving the pastorate, I found only a few churches who persistently preach Christ and him crucified. More often, he’s offered as our Christ-pal who comes alongside to help us fulfill our dreams, and find our God-birthed destiny. Consequently, the text preached becomes more about me, than it does about Jesus. Chris Rosbrough, of Pirate Christian Radio www.piratechristian.com refers to this as Narcigesis; the tendency to read yourself into the text rather than explaining Jesus from the text. That practice of hermeneutics is called exegesis, to draw out from the text. Through narcigesis, we are given great tips on how to slay our personal giants, march around our walls of financial burdens, or see our dry bones of dead relationships breath new life. This kind of self-centered preaching implies that those stories are about us, therefore losing their historic and theological significance. In truth, these stories exist to show a sovereign God accomplishing his awesome purposes through us, (like Joshua, King David, and Elijah), his humble and undeserving servants.
It’s Not About You
When Jesus caught up with the two men walking on the road to Emmaus, he talked to them about one thing, Himself. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27) The only one permitted to read himself into the text, is Jesus. All of scripture is about Jesus. If we do look for ourselves in the text, we will find us to be miserable sinners, in desperate need of a savior, not a life-coach assigned to guarantee us our best life now. And it’s here, from the discipline of exegetical preaching, that I encounter Jesus as Sovereign-God, who’s providential control over absolutely everything assuages every doubt and uncertainty I experience. I need my pastor to tell me he (Jesus) has it all in his hands; he’s good; he’s not oblivious to my pain; he owes me nothing but he still has my good in mind without it ever diminishing the power of his glory.
The second way I pray for a pastor is that he consistently reminds me, from scripture, that I am a forgiven-sinner. Nothing is more comforting than to show up on Sunday mornings to be reminded that I am a forgiven sinner. I need this, because I’ve consistently messed up during the week. The Presbyterians (PCA and EPC) seem to have a better corner on this market. Few evangelical churches open up with an opportunity for repentance and confession followed by assurance of pardon from our Crucified-Risen-Savior. More often, we are told to be happy, for after all, here we are, in God’s presence. Well, sometimes, I’m not that happy. I’ve had a hard week. I messed up on many fronts, said what I should not have said, uttered words that hurt others, grew impatient with a driver, watched TV more than meditating on scripture. Nothing prepares me better for another hard week than to be reminded that my Crucified-Risen-Savior has forgiven me, and empowered me by his Holy Spirit to live for him until the next Sunday where I will be reminded of all that again.
Finally, I pray for my pastor to preach the gospel in a hope-filled way, every Sunday, in every sermon. I hear too many pastors who try to talk us out of being miserable because of our sinful tendencies. We skirt the issue, ignore the elephant in the room, ME.
The Problem and the Answer
The story is told of a newspaper in England asking the question shortly after World War 2, “What’s wrong with the world today?” The famed writer, G.K. Chesterton wrote in with the simple response, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours GK Chesterton.”
The gospel does more than remind me that I am the problem, though. This is where I need my pastor to go beyond telling me Jesus is my savior and not my Christ-Pal or Life-Coach, but also tell me that Jesus is my King. He’s not just my COMING KING, but he is my PRESENT KING. That part of the gospel fuels me with hope. Hope for this life, and for the next life. I need my pastor to remind me that we are here for only a short time, and there is a future waiting for us that is worth saying no to sin, and to endure the hardships of life.
I need my pastor to assume there are people in church, each Sunday, who need this message of hope. I need my pastor to tie up the lose ends of his sermon with this ribbon, the promise of the gospel, which not only explains why I feel the way I do, and do the things I do, but also promises me I am forgiven and because of it, I have an eternal future to look forward to. I need my pastor to remind me that I am not saved by my good works, but saved for good works. I need my pastor to tell me that this world is in the mess it’s in because of sin, but we will one day live in a new world free of that mess. I need my pastor to urge me, week after week, to continue telling that good news to those who live nearest to me, my neighbors and my family.
It might sound from my high expectation that I am looking for Jesus in a pastor.
Touché. I am saying exactly that. I am looking for Jesus in my pastor.
In his preaching.
In his life.
(Part Two will address the churches role in empowering this kind pastor).