Dear Sheep: Reflections on 35 Years
May 06, 2015
For those of you who keep count, May 6, 2015, marks for me the completion of 35 years of ministry as Pastor of the Ottawa RPC! In a world marked by flux, changes of all kinds, and brief, seemingly ever changing relationships, you may wonder why I am still here, why I am still the pastor of the church I was called to plant 35 years ago.
I have observed many men leave one ministry after another, often after only a few years. Rarely does anyone seem to mind or think it is unusual. In fact, I cannot tell you how many times I've heard: "The Apostle Paul never stayed around." I have seen Board's and Presbytery's silenced by the pastor's answer to why he is leaving (and it is almost always the same): "The Lord wants me to go to this new ministry." At these times, I wish the man would simply say something like: "These new folks are going to pay me an incredible salary," or "The people in my current congregation have made our lives miserable and it was either leave or die," or "It was my best chance for a successful ministry." This would often be more honest.
The reality is that there are always reasons to leave the church, whether you are sitting in the pew, or standing in the pulpit. There are always hurts, and there are always misunderstandings. On top of that, there are always assaults by our adversary. None of us likes problems. How we deal with these issues is what matters. It is not whether or not we have problems. And no matter how serious our problems may be, let me assure you that, although we are not a perfect church, we are part of Christ's church, His bride whom He loves. We will have problems, every family does, and we are a family, the "family of faith" (Galatians 6:10). There will be problems, but what counts is whether we deal with them biblically.
Jesus, in speaking to His disciples about a time of great trouble that was going to come upon the church said: "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have crushing pressure, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). As Spurgeon says, "Beloved, in fighting with sin without and within, with error doctrinal or practical, with spiritual wickedness in high places or low places, with devils and the devil's allies, you are waging God's war, and unless He Himself can be worsted, you need not fear defeat." Friends, in Jesus Christ, you can take courage. You need never fear defeat!
Maybe you are wondering if it is necessary to live your life with problems all the time. However you answer that, I can assure you of one thing: Running from the church, or running from the ministry, or running from your family is rarely the way to get away from problems. Running will neither get you away from problems nor actually help you to learn how to deal with those problems. I have seen pastors, and even congregants, who go from church to church and repeat the same things again and again that provoked them to leave the first church, often simply because they never stayed long enough to actually go through the difficulties and learn how to achieve a godly resolution.
What I have just said is what are for me a series of strong negatives that deeply influence our lives. We do almost anything to avoid and run from problems, even if we are responsible for them. There are though, strong positive reasons for me staying RIGHT HERE in this ministry. As I said, in the church we are a family. We are united in Christ. What would it be like if, in the nuclear family, dad left after a few years, and gave as a reason "Well family, I really feel called to this new family." We all know that this is, more or less, just what is happening in our culture. Fathers, the shepherds of their family, have no sense of loyalty to their family, and no sense of concern for the future well-being of their family.
It is though, even more problematic in the church. In the culture, we can see men leaving their family and know that they are scoundrels. What do you do with men though, who leave the church and tell you in effect, that the voice of God directed them to do this? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that every man in the pulpit should be like me and remain in the same pulpit. I am saying, though, that I wholeheartedly wish quite a few more did see it this way.
First of all, families should work through problems and not reject each other simply because there is a problem. They should stand by each other through good times and through difficult times. Imagine what it is like as we show the world what we are like in suffering and great weakness. It is not as if we do this to show anything to the world, but they are watching. What is this family like? Do they live well? Do they suffer well? Do they love each other through it all? A family cannot get to this point without deep and long term involvement and commitment.
Secondly, and much more positively, there is a cycle of life that is involved. I have had the joy and the privilege of ministering through generations as pastor of this church. A ministry, like a family, like an individual, has seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. All of this is inevitable. Leaving in the face of difficulty only means that someone else, someone new, is expected to be called to take over in the middle of all of this, when the shepherd is gone. I hope you both see and understand my concern.
The church is not an organization designed for the purpose of creating programs that fill up people's time, or to provide an entertaining experience on Sunday morning. The church is a family. It is the "family of the faith" (Galatians 6:10). It is the "family of God" (Ephesians 2:19). The word for 'household' can also be understood as 'house' or 'home'. It should be a pointer for us of what being with God forever will be like. It is "being home." The church is meant to be a taste of heaven.
Beloved sheep, I'm here because this is my home, and I want this to be home for each person who steps through our doors as well. Will we have trouble with our family? Of course we will. This is the nature of the family. No family is perfect. But if we can learn to live and love and die in a Christ-like way, and bring others into such a devoted family, we are learning what very few people in our culture ever, ever see, let alone learn. This is why I am here. I can't teach these truths without learning them. I can't learn them if I run away from them. So here I am, living and learning and teaching; and hoping and praying that you are learning these things as well.
May God bless us in the years ahead as a family of His people. May He help us all to stand firm and grow strong, both for our own sake, and for each other's sake; and for the sake of our children, and our children's children; and for the sake of His church; and above all else, for the glory of God. As He says in Psalm 103:13-18:
"As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children – with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts."
With love in Christ,