It occurred to me that, although we’ve ordained a number of pastor-elders in recent years,
we haven’t explained what ordination is very often. Someone
has given a helpful explanation of what ordination is to Baptists. “Ordination
is the process a Biblically qualified man goes through to assure himself and the congregation he serves that he
is called by God to serve, he is grounded in Scripture, mature in his faith and [watching his life and doctrine
closely] (my edit). Ordination is important because putting an unqualified, immature or morally questionable man
into a position of influence and authority can be harmful, to the man, his family and his church. Ordination is
a process that eliminates men from the office of pastor and protects the church. It can also serve as recognition
that a man needs more training, accountability or time to prepare for a position of authority and service.” Although
the ordination council—whose report was read earlier—formally examines the candidate for ordination, the local
church ordains him for ministry after the body has determined he is a suitable candidate. Ordination
is different than installation. A
pastor is installed (or, formally commissioned to serve) in each local church he serves, but barring unusual circumstances,
he is ordained only once. The
call to pastor is a life-long call—the call to pastor a given local church may not be. That
means—among other things--that this is a very special time for Eric, Jen and for all of us. Although the word “ordination” is
not explicitly found in the Bible, it’s certainly Biblical to officially recognize that God has set apart a man
for the ministry because it is that call—that setting apart that enables him to minister with God’s authority and
It’s also that
sense of calling from God that keeps him in ministry when things get tough.
Our text this afternoon doesn’t directly speak to a pastor serving in a local church—as Paul speaks to Timothy. The central verse we’ll be looking is a prophecy from the prophet Zechariah Jesus quotes just as he is about to the fulfill it. He cites Zechariah to affirm to his disciples that his imminent crucifixion and the scattering of the disciples resulting from it will come as no surprise to him. Both his death and the scattering are in fact parts of God’s pre-ordained plan for his passion. In Matthew’s account, Jesus speaks these words from Zechariah immediately after the Passover feast he celebrates with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. We pick the narrative up in Matthew 26. In verse 30 we read, “30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same”.
Jesus wants the disciples to know that HE KNOWS they will all leave him. One reason he wants to inform them that he knows they will abandon him is this: When you abandon someone in his greatest hour of need--who has loved you as Jesus has; the great temptation is to believe that he will not love you anymore. You can just hear Satan whispering in the ears of the disciples, “What must he think of you? For three years, he has shown sacrificial faithfulness and love for you. Yet in the hour when you could have really supported him—you run away. Didn’t he say that --if you would be his disciple you’d have to be willing to die for him. But when the test came and you were faced with that option, you ran like a scared rabbit. Don’t you see what that means--you just proved you’re no disciple of his.”
That powerful temptation which Jesus knew would come—he tells as much to Peter--is weakened however—if Jesus tells you beforehand that he knows you’ll abandon him. I think this is his motivation because it’s consistent with a promise the apostle John records in the upper room on that same night. Jesus also told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Do you hear the impact that promise would have made on these disciples as they sat in tortured anguish later that night, condemning themselves for their cowardice for abandoning their Master? In that moment, they would need to lean heavily on this promise that they were his disciples, not because they were special—they were all cowards and he knew they would be cowards. They were his disciples because he had chosen them. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
As we said, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13. This prophecy foretells, not only that those closest to the Great Shepherd Messiah who was to come flee him when he was “stricken,” but so also would the nation of Israel separate itself from him. In this context however, Jesus applies the prophecy only to his disciples. Jesus tells his disciples, “31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” It may not be immediately apparent how this text is helpful to pastors—especially newly minted ones. I hope we’ll see that the implications of this truth are in fact VERY helpful to local shepherds. First however, I want to say that these truths about stricken shepherds apply to all under-shepherds, vocational and non-vocational. However, because I am primarily addressing a solo pastor and even a founding church planting pastor, my remarks will be tailored to fit Eric’s situation. All pastors should hear these truths, however. This is also for the church—it’s an important and sobering reminder about some elements of the pastorate that I hope will motivate you to pray more fervently for your pastors.
There are several reasons why this is appropriate for local church pastors. First, Zechariah and Jesus are referencing a Shepherd and pastors are called “shepherds” of their flocks. First Peter 5:2, among other texts that link pastoring to shepherding says, “2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;” Pastors lead, feed and weed the flocks—giving to their flocks the bread of God’s Word, protecting them against false teaching and providing gospel-centered, Spirit-led leadership—shepherding them. It’s not a strange coincidence that Peter—who personally knew the Great Shepherd of the sheep--would use this term to describe the work of pastoring God’s “flock.” The word “pastor” in the original means “shepherd.” A pastor is a shepherd. Although there are some very significant differences between the Great Shepherd and his under-shepherds who serve him as local pastors, we shouldn’t hesitate to draw strong connections between local church pastors and our Chief Shepherd when it’s appropriate. God wouldn’t have chosen the word “shepherd” for pastor if he didn’t want us to draw parallels between the Chief Shepherd and his under-shepherds. It’s very helpful.
Another reason why this text is appropriate for under-shepherds is a tragically self-evident one. That is—we’ve all seen in any number of situations this very dynamic of sheep scattered as a result of a stricken pastor. It’s not only true that when Jesus was stricken the sheep scattered, it’s also tragically true that: When a local church pastor is stricken, the flock under his ministry in some way scatters. An established pastor in a local church is “struck” in some way. The striking may be self-inflicted in the case of a moral failure, but it may also be from Satan attacking him from any one of several directions. For whatever reason, he stumbles—he falters and abruptly leaves the church and often the pastorate. Even in churches with strong elderships, when a pastor falls--especially as Eric will be--the preaching pastor—the one most identified with the church--the church is sent reeling. In some cases, it may take years for the church to recover and in others; she may never regain what has been taken.
This notion of the impact on the flock when the under-shepherd is struck has helpful implications for both the flock of God and the pastors he has called to shepherd them. Here are two reasons why this is helpful. First, because the impact on a church of a stricken shepherd reveals the unique, God-placed influence he has on that flock. The sudden rending of a church/pastor relationship and the disaster that often follows in its wake is a sad testimony to the powerful influence of that pastor. There’s an old expression—“If you want to see how important you are to an organization, put your finger into a bucket of water, pull it out and see how much of a hole you left.” There is some truth there as it relates to the church—no one except Jesus is indispensable to his bride, but the truism presented in the saying does not (pardon the pun) “hold water” in the case of most pastors—certainly not pastors God is using to expand his kingdom.
When a pastor is abruptly removed from the flock, experience teaches us that other members of the body do not immediately and/or adequately fill in the “hole” he leaves behind so as to replace what has been removed. The bucket illustration falls apart in this case. This doesn’t mean the pastor is more important to God than anyone else, but God placed him in a position of influence and when a person of influence is eliminated, there is no immediate recovery. If the pastor is chosen, called, equipped and faithful, God has ordained that his life and ministry will provide leadership to the flock and leaders have more influence than others in a church. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his eternal influence in the kingdom of God is greater than others in the body who may go completely unnoticed on a human level. there are doubtless elderly, perhaps even homebound saints who can’t even get to church whose countless hours of prayer for the church may very well have more eternal influence in the kingdom than his/her pastor, but most of that influence will not be revealed until eternity.
When you add to the influence of a typical church pastor the much greater influence a founding, church planting pastor has—especially in the early, formative years of the church, his influence in his church—both positive and negative…is staggering. In most cases, if the church-planting pastor is stricken in the first few years of a church plant—by whatever means, the church pretty much dies right there. I’ve seen it happen. God uses church planting pastors in a uniquely influential way as men who not only shepherd the flock, but who he also uses to establish—(church planting buzzword)—the DNA of a local church. Eric, my dear brother--the spiritual impact for good and ill you will have at Crosswood may very well remain for decades after you leave. So get it right and as Paul tells Timothy, watch your life and doctrine closely! And that goes for all pastors!
A second reason this image of a stricken shepherd is helpful is because by implications this image of a stricken shepherd reveals the strategic importance to the enemy of the under-shepherd. Satan is nobody’s fool. He knows this truth about the disastrous impact of stricken shepherds on the flock of God better than anyone here. He’s been taking down careless shepherds for centuries and as a result has scattered millions of saints. He’s tasted the diabolical sweetness and delighted over the crushing impact that comes when he brings down even one careless under-shepherd. If he can scatter an entire flock by striking one, single shepherd, it only makes sense that he would launch his strongest assaults against the under-shepherds. That’s simply good strategy—a wise use of his resources. C.H. Spurgeon in his “Lectures to My Students” quotes the great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter who speaks powerfully to this truth.
Baxter says to pastors, "Take heed to yourselves…because the tempter will make his first and sharpest onset upon you. If you will be the leaders against him, he will spare you no further than God restrains him. He bears you the greatest malice [because you] are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. As he hates Christ more than any of us, because he [Christ] is the General of the field, and the 'Captain of our salvation,'…so doth he note the leaders under him more than the common soldiers…” He knows what a rout he may make among the rest, if the leaders fall before their eyes. He hath long tried…'smiting the shepherds, that he may scatter the flock.' And so great has been his success this way, that he will follow it on as far as he is able. Take heed, therefore, brethren, for the enemy hath a special eye upon you. You shall have his most subtle insinuations, and incessant solicitations, and violent assaults. As wise and learned as you are, take heed to yourselves lest he outwit you. The devil is a greater scholar than you, and a nimbler disputant; he can 'transform himself into an angel of light' to deceive. He will get within you and trip up your heels before you are aware; he will play the juggler with you undiscerned, and cheat you of your faith or innocency, and you shall not know that you have lost it; nay, he will make you believe it is multiplied or increased when it is lost. You shall see neither hook nor line, much less the subtle angler himself, while he is offering you his bait. And his baits shall be so fitted to your temper and disposition, that he will be sure to find advantages within you, and make your own principles and inclinations to betray you; and whenever he ruins you, he will make you the instrument of your own ruin. Oh, what a conquest will he think he hath got, if he can make a minister lazy and unfaithful; if he can tempt a minister into covetousness or scandal! He will glory against the church, and say, 'These are your holy preachers: you see what their [piety] is, and what it will bring them.' He will glory against Jesus Christ himself, and say, 'These are thy champions! I can make your chiefest servants …abuse you; I can make the stewards of your house unfaithful…” Baxter concludes, “O do not so far gratify Satan; do not [give him such satisfaction:] [do not allow him] to use you as the Philistines did Samson-first depriving you of your strength, and then putting out your eyes, and so to make you the matter of his triumph and derision."
We mustn’t misunderstand—God’s grace is sufficient for any enemy assault, but under-shepherds must relate to God with a dependency and humility so as to attract this protective grace. It’s when we become proud—impressed with ourselves, that we become horribly vulnerable. In First Peter chapter five, Peter warns “5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Peter knows that pastors require much grace in order to be faithful and to ward off the attacks of the enemy. That means that grace-inducing, grace-attracting humility is essential. Peter then makes this curious claim that he “opposes the proud.” How does that work? I think it means that when you walk in humble dependence upon God, he builds a wall of protective grace around you. The enemy barks and scratches and claws against the wall, but he is kept from disabling you. When you walk in prideful independence of him, God’s opposition is manifest in that he takes down his protective wall of grace. You’ then stand exposed and vulnerable to the enemy who has been patiently waiting for just this moment to pounce on you and claim his prize. This is how God opposes you because without his wall of grace in the midst of the onslaught you’re easy prey.
So, where is the hope in this? Everyone struggles with pride and pastors are no different. Even the most faithful, humble, God-dependent pastor stumbles in many ways. We’re fallen sinners and God knows that we are but dust. All pastors have experienced this in ministry. We’ve all felt the crushing pain and guilt of knowing that we’ve betrayed Jesus in one of a thousand ways. I wish I could tell you that you are over the worst dear brother, but that would assail the truth. You’ve only begun to fail Jesus in ministry and as Jack Miller says, “you’re far worse than you think.”(as are we all!) But no called, ordained pastor should ever forget this: The same truth that sustained the disciples in their greatest failure can and by God’s grace will sustain you as well. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Jesus knows all your faults, foibles and vulnerabilities better than you or Satan and in the midst of them he will make a way for you to do what he has called you to do. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He chose you to shepherd his flock NOT in spite of your weaknesses, but in part, because of them. Those areas of your weakness are where his grace will shine the brightest. It’s in those moments when you are most stressed, most afflicted and most overwhelmed that you will see his hand most clearly. We don’t like to get out on the end of the limb like that, but as someone has said, that’s where the fruit is and that’s where Jesus is and where he’s seen most clearly in your life and ministry. For this reason, with Paul you can, “…boast all the more gladly of [your] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [you.]”
Finally, as we close, a word to the church—whether that be Crosswood, Mount of Olives
or other local assemblies represented here. Pray
for your pastors…a lot! God
has chosen him/them, but one of the means of grace through which God keeps him in ministry--one of the means of
grace God uses to keep that protective wall up and the enemy at bay is the prayers of the saints. Remember that your pastor is not
only an under-shepherd, he’s also a member of the flock. And
he needs to feel your warmth and care and prayerful protection of him. In
this way, you can all help shepherd him and cause him to thrive as God blesses his ministry. Eric, may God give you the grace
to live humbly before the Great Shepherd and in so doing attract his protection and free him to use you mightily
for your joy and his glory.
Page last modified on 1/21/2013
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