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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
  • John Hendryx
  • Marco Gonzalez

    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « Jesus is the Messiah; Here's the Proof! | Main | Nobility - A Daily Habit »

    The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need

    Shepherds do not smell good. At least, good shepherds do not smell good. A good shepherd identifies with stinking sheep, and the scent rubs off. But shepherds stink not only because they smell like sheep. They stink because they smell like sweat. And blood, too. Like common laborers, their faces are streaked and their backs are bent. Like common soldiers, their eyes are strained and their arms are scarred. Like both, they often feel overspent and undersupplied. And they’ve made peace with the fact that this kind of work requires as much. You’ll never meet a good shepherd who is still shower-fresh by the afternoon.

    In the same way, you’ll never meet a good pastor who has a breezy attitude toward his task. He does not bemoan the hard work required to care for the stubborn and the hurting while still feeding and protecting everyone else. Sure, every pastor has days when he is tempted to look heavenward and ask, why the constant problems from these people? But he finds the faith to accept that his task Is hard. God made it that way to empty a pastor of himself, so that he may be filled with the power of Christ.

    PUBLIC MINISTRY, PERSONAL PROBLEMS
    We have never heard the explicit claim that ministry is easy. But we have seen many pastors try to arrange it to be. We’ve also seen plenty of men head into the pastorate for a pulpit ministry. What they mean by pulpit ministry is getting paid to preach and teach, with perhaps a pastoral visit here and there. They know personal ministry and counseling are important, so they usually plan to grow the church budget through their amazing pulpit skills, then hire an associate pastor to do everything else.

    We do not mean to sound caustic. We were once young men with visions of leading a loyal people into the great unknown through eloquent exposition and piercing application, the power of the Word radiating from the pulpit like blazing light in the dusky culture. Husbands would take the hands of their wives during our sermons and repent in bitter tears that after¬noon. Addicts would decide then and there to never indulge again. Depressed people would come out of their fog under the sound of our voices. Our preaching ministry would be strong enough to make the counseling ministry unnecessary. Or at least mostly unnecessary. Sure, there would be a straggling nut-job here and there, but the church would be healthy because of the preaching ministry.

    But two things kept us from persisting in this dream: experience and the Bible. Experience is a strict schoolmaster. It points out right away that we start out as pretty crummy preachers. Even as we become less crummy, we will find that improved preaching does not necessarily correlate with less trouble in the lives of our people. In fact, pick your favorite preacher, and you will see a church with a bigger budget but no less trouble in the life of its people. Experience won’t permit the illusion that preaching is all there is to ministry.

    Just to be crystal clear, preaching is the vital and central ministry of the Word in the mission of the church. It is a primary purpose of the body’s gathering and is foundational to any personal ministry we do. So do not misunderstand our intention here. We are not calling into question the primacy of the preaching ministry. We are merely pointing out that it is not the only place that the ministry of the Word happens in the life of the church.
    Experience alone would not be a sufficient teacher to establish this point. Better than simply learning from what doesn’t work in the real world is learning what constitutes shepherding by looking to the Bible.

    PERSONAL MINISTRY IN SCRIPTURE
    Peter’s eyes were probably weary as the morning sun was just starting to warm the beach. He probably studied Jesus’s resurrected face closely as they ate breakfast in silence, all the disciples too timid to ask if it was really he. They were waiting for Jesus to start the conversation. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” You know the story. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him. By the third time, Peter was grieved that Jesus would seem so unconvinced by his affirmative answers. But each time, Jesus was instructing Peter how to demonstrate genuine love for him: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–19). Loving Jesus involves caring for those who are his. And caring for those who are his will involve death. For Peter, it was literal death. Jesus predicted “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (v. 19).

    Ministry Is Suffering
    While we recognize that Peter’s calling as an apostle was unique to him, we also understand that the path of following Jesus in leading his church will include both labor in feeding sheep and suffering at the hands of others.
    Many years later, the seasoned Peter would make this connection urgently clear:

    So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet. 5:1–4)

    Peter’s authority as an apostle was due, in part, to his witness of the sufferings of Christ. He focused on Christ’s suffering because it was necessary to the glory to be revealed. This is a major theme of Peter’s letter (1 Pet. 1:6–7, 11; 2:21–25; 3:13–17, 18–22; 4:1, 7, 12–19). Peter would one day participate in this glory, and so will every pastor who shepherds the flock of God until Christ’s return. But to get there, shepherds will suffer. Why else would Peter have to instruct his readers to take on this task willingly, even eagerly, and not under obligation? We don’t naturally take on tasks that do not profit us (“not for shameful gain”).

    Ministry Is Personal
    But so far, we have only shown that Scripture indicates shepherding God’s flock to involve labor and suffering; we have not yet shown that the toil is not merely in public proclamation, but also in personal ministry. To do so, let’s look to Paul as a prime example of a man who toiled in public proclamation while also engaging in the labor of personal ministry. Paul was a public beacon of gospel preaching, and he was called by God to suffer in this labor (Acts 9:15–16). He proclaimed the gospel openly in the synagogues, and this brought threats of death (9:20–25). Paul proclaimed the good news publicly in Cyprus (13:4), Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), various cities of Lycaonia (14:6–7), and countless other places. A major portion of Paul’s ministry was the public proclamation of the gospel.

    But if we were to conclude there, we would have to ignore significant portions of Paul’s ministry. His letters to the churches displayed the heart of a man who had labored many long hours in caring for God’s people. In fact, he refers to his suffering and cannot ensure will go our way (“not domineering over those in your charge”). We don’t naturally want to get close enough to model faithfulness in suffering. But the words of Jesus to Peter that morning on the beach probably echoed in the apostle’s mind as he penned this exhortation to his fellow pastors. “Shepherd the flock of God” sounds a lot like “Feed my lambs.”
    Peter saw Jesus ascend into heaven, and it made whatever toil he had to face on behalf of his people well worth it. He knew that Jesus took his place in heaven to be the chief Shepherd, one who would be ultimately responsible for watching over every sheep. This is indeed a worthy labor amid people as the credentials that prove his calling by God in opposition to those who used earthly impressiveness to prove theirs. He underwent beatings, stonings, and shipwreck to labor personally for God’s people (2 Cor. 11:23–30). Paul speaks of his own ministry as flowing from “affectionate desire” for those under his care, a desire so strong that he, Silvanus, and Timothy “were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). He underwent “labor and toil,” earning a living so as not to be a burden on them, so that he could say, “Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (2:11–12).

    Posted by Marco on April 21, 2015 01:25 PM

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