The Pastoral Ministry Is Not Just a Job!
Lord God, as we come before You this day to worship, we thank You for the public ministry of the Word. Through the preaching of the law, we are convicted of sin and led to sorrow over sin. Through the preaching of the gospel, we are uplifted by Your message of grace and mercy. Let us ever to listen to Your Word and to apply it to our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Those individuals called into the public preaching ministry are to proclaim God’s Word faithfully. They are not to substitute their thoughts, opinions, and dreams for the truths revealed in the Bible. May God always bless Immanuel with pastors committed to preaching the saving truths of Holy Scripture.
Among the many gifts Jesus Christ gives to His Church are pastors and teachers who are to prepare God’s people for their respective ministries, all of which are to build up the Church. This is accomplished when God’s truths are proclaimed in love and all believers are moved to work together in love!
Jesus called certain men to be His apostles to preach the Gospel and so become "fishers of men." Today, Jesus continues to call individuals into the public preaching ministry to do the same thing—to preach the Gospel and thereby to win the hearts of men for their Savior!
Text: Acts 20:17-32
From Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews, how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to the Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. for I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to your-selves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church who provides pastors to shepherd His flock, dear fellow redeemed:
I began my ministry in South Dakota almost twenty years ago serving three small congregations. I was privileged to spend six years serving those wonderful people. After receiving and accepting a call to Immanuel Lutheran College a friend commented, "You put in your dues. It was time for you to receive a plum assignment." Since that time I have heard many people, both inside and outside the church, comment on pastoral calls in similar secular terms. Calls to larger congregations are considered promotions, which would perhaps make calls to smaller congregations a type of demotion. Such comments are understandable, for when you are secularly employed you generally expect to advance in your field. Such comments, however, are in error and simply do not accurately reflect the situation. As Pastor Libby and I both consider calls, to Grand Rapids, MI and Fond du Lac, WI respectively, it is not a matter of receiving a promotion or demotion. Nor is it a matter relating to finance, or location, or family considerations. For you see THE PASTORAL MINISTRY IS NOT JUST A JOB!
It is a ministry, first of all, entered by divine call! When seeking a job in the secular world, you fill out job applications, are interviewed, and then hired for specific positions. From there you either advance within a particular company, or you decide to take a position elsewhere. This is not the case in the pastoral ministry. While Scripture does not dictate the exact method to be used by the church in securing their pastors, it makes one thing perfectly clear--in all cases the ministry is entered by divine call. In today’s Epistle Lesson we were told that Jesus Himself gives pastors to His Church. That thought is certainly confirmed in our text, for Paul refers to “the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.” He also assured the “elders” or pastors of the congregation in Ephesus that the “Holy Spirit” had made them “overseers” within the church.
In Paul’s day the choice of pastors was made by casting lots or appointment by a leading missionary after praying for God’s guidance. In our day and in our circles pastors are called after being elected by the voters of any given congregation. Yet, we recognize that God Himself is working through these various means to place individuals where He wants them to serve in His kingdom. That thought can be and is to be comforting both for the pastor and the congregation. When a pastor knows that he is serving under divine call, he takes comfort in the fact that the Lord Who sent him will stand by him as he deals with the difficult issues of the pastoral ministry. When a congregation knows that their pastor is serving under divine call, they can take comfort in the fact that even though things may not always run smoothly, the Lord will certainly be with the congregation and bless them as they work together with the pastor God has sent them. Yes, THE PASTORAL MINISTRY IS NOT JUST A JOB--it is a ministry entered by divine call!
It is also a ministry proclaiming the whole counsel of God! Paul, in addressing these elders of Ephesus and speaking of his ministry among them, emphasized, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God!” This Paul did both publicly and privately. He says, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” The pastoral ministry is above all a ministry of God’s Word! The faithful pastor, as we heard in our Old Testament lesson, will not substitute his own thoughts and ideas for those of God. No, he will bind himself to proclaiming the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth found in God’s revelation, the Bible.
Needless to say, such a pastoral ministry is rare in our day. Most church bodies and most clergy no longer view the Bible as God’s verbally inspired and inerrant Word. Consequently, they do substitute their own ideas, or simply pick and choose from among the truths of Scripture those which they prefer to believe. Yet, when Jesus gave us in His Great Commission, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” He then went on to say, “Teach...them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:29-20a).
Some years ago, my uncle’s home congregation lost their pastor. The district president of the Lutheran synod to which they belonged was what many today call a "moderate." That means that he no longer accepted the Bible in its entirety as the unerring Word of God. This synodical official provided them with a list of pastoral candidates, all of whom were likewise "moderates." After extending a call to one of them, my uncle received word from a friend in a Lutheran laymen organization, that their congregation would not want this man as their pastor, because he was not faithful to the Bible. My uncle’s congregation then informed the pastor that they wanted him to return their call. They then contacted a "conservative" synodical official for an entirely different list of candidates, and proceeded to call a man more faithful to the Bible. When I commented to my uncle that the very last thing they should have to worry about when calling a Christian pastor was his commitment to the Bible, and that in view of the situation within his church body, he should strongly consider leaving, he responded that he felt he should stay and fight for the truth. Many years later just shortly before he died, my uncle confided in me that he despaired of his church body ever regaining the doctrinal soundness for which it had once been known.
My dear friends, the pastoral ministry is a ministry proclaiming the whole counsel of God, not a broad range of human opinion! Paul summarizes the heart and core of the counsel by saying that he had faithfully proclaimed “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ!” Christianity deals with the main problem facing all human beings, sin, and it does so decisively! God calls upon all human beings to humble themselves before His almighty hand, recognizing that they have sinned and deserve nothing but His punishment. On the other hand, Christianity points out that God by grace has resolved the problem of sin in the person and through the work of Jesus Christ! The Scriptures proclaim that when we accept Jesus by faith and rejoice in Him as our Savior, our sins are washed away and we have the gift of everlasting life!
From this solid base it is the faithful pastor’s responsibility to point out that which is pleasing to God and to provide his members with the knowledge of how they might lead lives pleasing to Him. This is not a popular thing to do in our society. Some weeks ago a well known American businessman commented to the national media that while he was not opposed to the concept of ten commandments, he really felt they should be revised, for "not committing adultery" was truly an out-dated concept! My dear friends, God’s will for His children does not change. His laws are unchanging, for they were established to bring blessing if obeyed. It is not the pastor’s job to water down that which the world does not want or will not accept. For THE PASTORAL MINISTRY IS NOT JUST A JOB--it is a ministry proclaiming the whole counsel of God!
It is a ministry, thirdly, shepherding blood-bought souls! Over thirty years ago I recall my father telling me that while in secular jobs you matched wits with other men, in the pastoral ministry you matched wits with Satan! The pastoral ministry ultimately is all about caring for the precious souls of people. Paul reminded the pastors in Ephesus of this when he said, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood!”
Does God love you? The proof of His love is to be found on the lonely hill called Calvary, where He shed His holy, precious blood as a ransom to pay for the sins of the world. There is not a man, woman, or child who is alive today or who has ever lived or who ever will live, who was not loved by that sacrifice. John writes, “He (Jesus) Himself is the propitiation (the satisfactory payment) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). Therefore, seeing that every soul is precious in God’s eyes, it is incumbent upon every pastor to watch over those souls with care! He is to shepherd them as a good shepherd would--expending himself to fulfill his congregation’s needs.
The pastoral ministry is not a nine to five job! It is not a job dealing with material objects that are bought or sold--all of which can be replaced if necessary. No, it deals with precious souls which can be lost to Satan’s grip, and which if lost can never be replaced. It is for this reason that every call must be considered carefully. All decisions must be made on the basis of the needs of souls and the pastor’s ability to meet those needs. To quibble over dollars, to think only of where one might like to live, to seek only to be closer to family or friends, to assume that one call brings with it more honor than another, would be completely inappropriate. The focus must be on the various needs of God’s people, for THE PASTORAL MINISTRY IS NOT JUST A JOB--it is a ministry shepherding blood-bought souls!
It is a ministry, finally, concluded by the Spirit’s prompting! Paul’s ministry in Ephesus had been entrusted to him by Jesus. It was only the Spirit’s prompting that ended this ministry. Paul says, “Now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Paul’s ministry in Ephesus had been exciting and prosperous. Much had been accomplished and much was still being accomplished, but the time had come to go. Paul might easily have concluded that since his three years in Ephesus had been so productive, he should stay on. Such thoughts, humanly speaking, would have been even more appealing, seeing that Paul already knew that he would suffer imprisonment in the future. Paul, however, was prompted by the Spirit to resist such temptations and to conclude his ministry in Ephesus so that he might serve the Lord elsewhere.
My dear friends, that is what is imperative for any call situation. The Lord’s will must be done. Friendships can and do form during any ministry, but the kingdom work must take precedence and the Lord’s will is to be done. Consequently, you don’t just "take this job and shove it" if you are unhappy, nor do you assume that once you are called to a particular area, the Lord will never call you elsewhere. No, THE PASTORAL MINISTRY IS NOT JUST A JOB--it is a ministry concluded by the Spirit’s prompting! May we then recognize the divine nature of the call, and pray always that God’s will be done to His glory and for the blessing of His Church! Amen.
— Pastor Paul D. Nolting