Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Surprising Sources of Joy in Pastoral Ministry, 9

One of my weaknesses is that I have a hard time letting people care for me. I move between pride, on the one hand, and a kind of concern for inconveniencing others, on the other. Actually, as I think about it, pride is probably at the root of both responses. Man! Pride is subtle.
Anyway, I have to work on killing pride so that I might be cared for by others. In my own mind and heart, I've probably perverted the notion that it's better to give than to receive so that I'm ever the giver and never the receiver.

Practically speaking, this robs me of one source of joy the Lord intends pastors to receive in the course of their ministries. The Apostle Paul is our model. He writes to the Philippians, "I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it" (Eph. 4:10).

It's a little difficult for me to be easy with the apostle's reaction here. People express a renewed concern for him and he "rejoices greatly." To my proud ears it sounds as though the apostle is taking advantage of someone or overly concerned with his needs above others. After all, isn't he the one who wrote think more highly of others than you do yourself? That's my head blabbing.

But here's what I've discovered since coming to FBC Grand Cayman. The numerous and wonderful ways in which the people here have loved on my family and me have caused us to "rejoice greatly in the Lord." The truth of the apostle's words, though slowly seeping into my head, have been quickly attested to by my heart and experience with the saints here. We praise God for the tangible and specific acts of concern and care we've received from the body here. They have been acts of genuine love, and by God's design acts that excite joy in the pastoral ministry.

Just a few examples:

1. There's a lady in the church with an evident gift for hospitality, and she uses it liberally in the church. On a couple occasions, unprompted, out of the fullness of her heart, she has prepared appreciation dinners for the staff. My wife and I have benefited in a number of ways, but I'll mention two that really stirred joy in our hearts. After a Wednesday night Bible study, this young woman catered a surprise birthday party for my wife, featuring my wife's new favorite dish--Cayman-style lobster. My wife and I celebrated our 16th anniversary this past weekend. I didn't even know the lady knew it was our anniversary. She arranged for people to keep our children over night and sent a professional chef to prepare a dinner in our home! It was a joyous time! Her concern for us has been overwhelming.

2. I recall the night we moved into our place here in Cayman. Probably five couples descended on our home and took over the unpacking and assembling of furniture. It was a great blessing.

3. Then there are the three or four older members of the church who have a special ministry of encouragement to me. They very frequently find me after the service to encourage me in some specific way. And they drop by the office from time to time "just to check on me" and bring me fresh fruit. I'm gaining weight through their concern, but I like to think of weight gain as lingering evidence of previous joy :-).

4. The elders show constant concern for me as they ask about my schedule, balance, and commitments. As they've been helping me to think through these things, I've greatly rejoiced in the Lord at the blessing that they are and the tangible expression of love that their concern represents.

Honestly, I could go on and on. The Lord has been tremendously kind in sending me to the people of FBC. I greatly rejoice in Him. And, honestly, I'm surprised by how much joy comes from letting others care for you--not out of some sense of just deserts or anything like that, but from a sincere heart of love and mutual care.

To my pastor friends, notice in the second part of verse 10 that Paul recognized there are sometimes circumstances in which a people are unable to express concern. A couple of questions: (1) Are there any ways, like me in my pride, that you tend to deny people opportunity to care for you? (2) Is your lack of joy in ministry, to the extent that you lack joy, connected with the inability or failure of the people to show their concern for you? If so, how will you labor to remove that inability and/or express your need in a humble, godly way that invites care for you (and your family)?

To members of local churches, notice that the Philippians were eager to show their concern for the apostle, even to the point of sharing in his troubles (4:14). A couple of questions: (1) In what way can you work to be sure your pastor is "amply supplied" (4:18) and greatly rejoicing in the Lord for your concern for him and his family? How can you tangibly express loving care for your pastors today or this week? (2) What barriers in the life of the congregation need to be removed in order for the body to grow in this way? How can you lovingly point those barriers out to others and collectively express greater love for your shepherds?

Life in the local church is meant to be joyous for all, for pastor and people. Perhaps there is no better way for us to strengthen our joy in the Lord than to care well for one another in all things. May the Lord help us to do so.


Pastor Lance said...

hey brother T,

thanks so much for these meditations, they've really encouraged me. I too suffer from the 'no don't worry about me I can do everything for everybody and need nothing in return' pride syndrome. i'm going to pray that the Lord impresses your thoughts on my heart so I can learn to receive the saints expression of service for the sake of my joy and theirs.


karin said...

Your thoughts have brought tears to my eyes. I have the gift of encouragement. The Lord provides ample opportunities to share that gift. Years ago, every which way I could, I showed love, respect and appreciation to a young pastor couple and their children. They had just come off some negative experiences in pastorates and needed TLC. In a way I still can't understand, they perceived my demonstrations of love as evidence and indication of my 'neediness' and were too proud to be loved and cared for by someone. I'm glad the Lord has given you this insight and that you humble yourself to accept your peoples' love without suspicions. If their motives are truly only self-serving, your humble acceptance of what they offer, may in itself achieve the teaching in their heart that the Lord has intended.
BTW, because the Lord fills me to overflowing with His love, I'm still generous and genuine with mine. The tears are remnants of the grief of loss.