Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Pastor's Heart in Paul's Letters, 2

In the last post, we began a series of reflections on the pastor's heart in the letters of Paul. Really, I'm just skimming some verses that have made a major impact on my own heart over the years. In my travel Bible are passages highlighted with an orange marker... a color I reserve for these verses that prick and prod and ply and pry my heart each time I consider them. We come to a second sch verse today.

If you were boiling pastoral ministry down to a word, what would it be?

A good number of candidates exist, I suppose. But one passage in Paul's letters has been formative for me. "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

The pastor should be regarded as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. That's what Paul desired to be known as, and it seems fitting for every pastor as well.

But the part that's been blazed on my heart is verse 2-- "it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy," or "faithful" in some versions. Of all that might be demanded of stewards, it boils down to this one quality... faithfulness/trustworthiness. Am I worthy of my Lord's trust? Am I one who will carry out my charge with loyalty, constancy, devotion, and thoroughness? Will I keep my vows to the Lord, taken at ordination, to shepherd the flock of God and preach the gospel in season and out?

Our stewardship is measured by our faithfulness. Which makes you want to cry out with the Apostle, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

But what would our service be if it were not faithful or trustworthy? What would be the value of all our preaching and exhorting if we were not faithful to the Word of God? What kind of stewards would we be of the people of God were we not worthy of their trust in prayer? If we slept rather than watched over their souls, of what benefit would it be to the blood-bought children of God? Should we be pleased with ourselves if we only demonstrated fidelity to the commandments of Christ in 50% or 75% or 90% of the time?

I'm not advocating perfectionism here. I'm not here addressing our frailty and inability and corruption, as though we could escape those in this life. I'm interested in how 1 Cor. 4:2 addresses the pastor's heart, his motives, and how those motives work themselves out in his public and private life. In other words, is faithfulness or trustworthiness a defining or consuming part of how we approach the pastoral task as stewards?

Paul wished to be regarded as nothing more than a steward and servant of Christ Jesus. And in that role, he wanted to meet the one requirement of faithfulness. And boy, didn't he seem to give himself wholeheartedly to being faithful? It didn't matter whether the impending outcome was the conversion of hundreds or being stoned and left for dead, Paul sought to be loyal to His Lord and trustworthy in his ministry.

What about me? Am I wholehearted in my pursuit? Am I discharging the ministry entrusted to me?

One thing I'm certain of amidst all my failures and ambitions... trustworthiness isn't acquired by osmosis. It doesn't just ooze into the pastor's heart while he sleeps. The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire for a different result. So, faithfulness requires purpose, intention, reflection and deliberation.

I'm not always faithful. A few things break my heart more than realizing in some situation or decision or plan that I've been less than faithful. I rely on the Lord's grace and the pruning work of His Spirit in those times. And I've learned to ask myself some questions, to inspect my heart and mind, depending on the Spirit to show me my heart and to enlighten me by God's Word. A few that I ask:

1. To what extent is trustworthiness/faithfulness to Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, motivating or informing my ministry?
2. How might a faithful/trustworthy steward respond to this question or need?
3. What practices of my ministry (or the church) need strengthening or reformed in order to trustworthily handle the mysteries of God?
4. Who can I trust and depend on to encourage me in faithfulness to the Lord?
5. Where am I tempted to compromise with God's Word and the Gospel and why?
6. When is my claim to "faithfulness" really/likely a mask for inflexibility and impatience?
7. Have I properly (that is, in light of Scripture, the Lord's requirements, and pastoral practice) considered the implications/consequences of faithfulness or unfaithfulness in various situations? What toll is likely to be paid by this sheep or the church or my family if I'm not trustworthily stewarding the gospel of Christ in any particular situation? What is the likely result, good or bad, for faithfulness?

On that day, I greatly desire to meet my Savior, and for the people of my charge to meet our Savior, and hear Him say those lovely words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

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