"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:28, NIV).
On our recent trip to Israel, Lenny and I had the opportunity to observe a pastor of the flock at work, up close. He is excellent at what he does, serving as spiritual leader, shepherd, enthusiastic coach, and sometimes den mother of those entrusted to his care. We have a great deal of respect and affection for this man who has become like a brother to us as well, and yet, it seemed to us that he was carrying a very heavy burden indeed. It appeared to us that he believes it is his responsibility to get those who depend upon him to the place where he thinks they should be spiritually. Hopefully, you can excuse my lame pun about pastorizing the flock, which I "heard" in my meditation about the subject of spiritual growth and WHO is responsible for it. I shoved the title aside for a few days, thinking it was too silly to come from Spirit, but when I woke up writing the piece in my mind, I realized God was serious about it, and I should be as well.
As background, I grew up on a dairy farm where we now live. In those days, twice a day, morning and night, sick or well, dad milked the cows, and mama pasteurized the raw milk to sell to the public. Pasteurization is a process where "food such as milk, cheese, yogurt, beer or wine is exposed to an elevated temperature for a period of time sufficient to destroy harmful or undesirable microorganisms without radically altering taste or quality" (Random House Dictionary). The similarities between pasteurizing milk, and "pastorizing" the flock are too rich to ignore. As further affirmation, we received an e-mail from a brother, whose insights into the problems pastors grapple with daily, I'll share with you. He was a traditional minister of the gospel until God radically changed his viewpoint and job description, and so we value his comments because as he said before, he's been there, done that.
He began with this scripture: "Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them. Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him" (John 12:38-40). Our friend's words follow in blue:
"Jan, Sounds like Isaiah would agree with Lenny [whom I had quoted as saying, "Spiritual misunderstanding is all God's fault."] "In this short passage it seems clear that unless God does the unveiling, then there's no amount of "believing reports," or "revealing arms," or "understanding with hearts," or "turnings," or "healings" that is gonna happen. The evangelical world would have a fit if they saw someone pointing that verse at them: "Children of Israel, fine, but not us." The part about all of this that still troubles me, however, is coming across as one of the "enlightened ones." Lord knows, I'm still seeking, wrestling, and wondering about all of this. Instead of passing myself off as someone that now has come to special knowledge, it is easier (and more honest) for me to simply say to them: "You know, the ideas that if 'God was in Christ reconciling the WORLD to Himself' AND if 'God is Love' AND, if 'perfect Love casts out all fear,' then all of that just makes too much sense to me to continue believing what you (most Christians) still believe." I continue to wonder just how much unveiling remains for us?
"Your comment about the pastor having to have a devotion at EVERY site caught my eye: To me, it was a perfect illustration of the pressures imposed by religion on the faithful as well as the pressures they impose on themselves. I won't claim to know what your tour guide was thinking or feeling, but having been where he was myself, I can venture a good guess. Being the "spiritual leader," I bet he felt a duty to help the "touring sheep" to more fully appreciate and understand the full implications of what you were all witnessing by offering his God-given insights. In addition, I don't think it a stretch to believe he might have mused "What would these people THINK OF ME, if I had NOTHING to say while standing beside the Garden Tomb?! Some pastor he is!"
Yep, it was thoughts like those (and more) that got me to where I am today. Every Sunday I would feel the same pressure to "make something spiritual happen." Teach a great lesson; lead the faithful in rousing praise; pass on the love of God in the hallway to some troubled soul. When I looked around me, I saw everyone else (at least the active ones) doing the exact same thing: trying to make something happen. I can't say at what point the nonsense of it all finally dawned on me, but when it did...Man, did it ever! After that point, all I could see was nonsense and a conjuring up of the Spirit. "Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land for ever, the shoot of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified." (Isa. 60:21). Once I finally arrived at the belief that ALL of this is His responsibility, "peace like a river flowed."
"It is sad to think that the mass of Christianity does not believe God is quite capable of making things happen on His own; that the Spirit will not take charge when and where He chooses. I once asked my youngest son "Have you ever gone to church on a Sunday morning and heard the pastor stand up in front of the congregation and say, 'Folks, the Lord gave me nothing to say today, nothing. Therefore, I figured I should remain silent. Let's see if He gave one of you something to say. Until then, we can sing some praises or pray, or go out in the fellowship hall and love each other in Lord over coffee.'" It may have happened somewhere in Christendom, but, if so, I was not a witness to it. And if it did happen, I wouldn't be surprised if that pastor was summarily ushered into a room full of elders with scowls on their faces.
"History, worlds, and time itself turns on the most basic of beliefs. My world changed forever when I heard those six simple words: "Tim, I AM responsible for you." End quote.
This brother has stated several problems pastors face, and he ended with the conclusion that many of us have come to, i.e., that it is God's responsibility to bring us into the maturity of Christ. One scripture which the Holy Spirit quickened to me to make this important point is Eph. 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." In a blaze of enlightenment, it came to me that it is Christ's job to make the church and all within her, holy and blameless, not the pastor's, nor the elders', nor the Pope's. The dictionary defines pastor as "1: a minister or priest in charge of a church. 2. a person having spiritual care of a number of persons." The position of pastor as it is used today is not mentioned in the New Testament. Those given the care of the flock are referred to in some translations as "elders" and in other translations as "bishops."
The church leaders are also called "overseers," because it is their responsibility to oversee the flock. These were not paid positions in the early church, as they are today, nor was the responsibility as great, it seems to me. Today, as Harry Fox recently observed, a preacher's duties resemble those of a CEO of a corporation. The preacher has to think not only of the individual members' needs but of the "bottom line" of the church organization, which probably has a mortgage on a building to pay off and certainly, has so many operating expenses that Paul, Peter, James, John, Silus, Timothy and the other early church leaders would have been completely confounded. The pastor is usually not really free to speak his mind or heart, but must be ever cognizant of the winds of opinion and doctrinal prejudices which blow through his congregation. The preacher probably has a family of his own to feed and clothe, as well as a mortgage to pay, kids to educate, and his old age to provide for. He serves God, to be sure, but he must answer to man, either to the flock directly, or to the body of overseers who decide what's "in" and what's "out." If he gets it wrong, or is too progressive in his opinions for the majority of the congregation, he faces dismissal. Some church bureaucracy is so tediously involved in laws, bylaws, and committees, that it may take years to send a bad pastor on his way. Other times, the elders may have such authority available to them that they can almost instantly send a preacher packing if he has offended their doctrinal or moral sensibilities and/or traditions.
This is not how Jesus instructed His disciples to bring the good news of the kingdom. First of all, He gave them POWER and AUTHORITY, "to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness" (Matt. 10:1). They were told, "Go to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near. 'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep" (Matt. 10:6-10).
Visualize with me the full manifestation of God's sons, for whom the creation has been groaning: those given power to heal the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons, and set the captives free. They would never have to ask for money, and their purpose would only be to GIVE to those in need and FREE those in bondage. Such a ministry of giving rather than taking would be in direct opposition to TV evangelists and many pulpit preachers who whine for money to pay for TV time, the building program, educational materials, the operating budget, and of course, the preacher's salary. That we do not yet see this spiritual power and authority in operation on a large scale as they did in the first century, is not all man's fault, of course. God has a time table, written before the foundation of the world for His plan to manifest, even as each born again Christian has a time table for maturing. To run ahead of that is folly, and as pointless as lecturing a rose bud to try harder to become a full blown flower.
Only God knows the time table we each operate in, which is another good reason why Jesus told us not to judge each other (Mt. 7:1-2), and Paul advised us to know no man "after the flesh" (II Cor. 5:16). Though he has been saved for decades; one may still be a babe in Christ, while another may be stuck in the teenage years, still attempting to cast, bind, and plead the blood to defeat the devil. Still others are fathers (and mothers) of the faith, who know, the Apostle John said, "Him who is from the beginning" (1 John 2:12-14). Regardless of where we are on The Glory Road, Paul affirms that "just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven" (I Cor. 15:49). This progression from babes in Christ to fathers of the faith was written before the foundation of the world, and any pastor who expects to continue to be effective without crashing, burning, and flaming out must come to grips with WHO calls the shots, and WHOSE responsibility it is "able to keep you from falling and to prevent you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24). Of course, the subject of that sentence is "the only God our Savior." To Him be "glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever more. So be it" (Vs. 25).
It's not a surprise that Christ is the ONLY one responsible for our growth, because He said to His disciples, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). This statement, plus His comment that "You did not choose me. I chose you," (John 15:16), makes it clear that spiritual growth is a "God job" from start to finish. Should there be any pastors reading these words, I hope this will be an encouragement to you, knowing that you don't carry the burden. God does. And in that mysterious way in which the "two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12), cuts both ways, the pasteurization or purification process works as well or better for pastors as it does for the sheep. The heat and pressure created when trying to keep the sheep in line has a direct effect on the pastor's own spiritual growth. All those hours on his knees produce a wonderful result: that he may see God as He is.
Many of us have discovered a well kept secret in Christendom: it is not necessary to run to the pastor for help, advice, or prayer, because even the best of them is a candle in the wind compared to the magnificent bounty waiting for us when we go to God Himself. The difference between what the pastor can give and what God offers is as dramatic as comparing a perfectly grilled steak with all the trimmings to a bowl of oatmeal for dinner. Knowing that God is ultimately responsible for all things, and works EVERYTHING after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), allows us to enjoy kingdom living as we enter into His rest.
The Apostle Paul summarized this discussion perfectly: "And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things at ALL times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (II Cor. 9:8).
Father, we thank You that Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. Open our eyes to see that You direct our steps, choose our words, and shower us with Your unending grace which is available to all men. Flow through us like a mighty river of unconditional love, mercy and kindness, that the world may know You as You are. To You be all majesty and power and glory, now and forever, Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We're always glad to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 4/7/05
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/13/08.