The journey that God has allotted me has taken that turn towards that signpost on which we read, three score years and ten. What great grace He has exercised towards me in allowing me to take the road I've traveled.
As you would have seen from the last post, thoughts of the past arise, some seeming to have an important lesson to teach.
Despite, as a young man, being recognised by my pastor, and the congregation, as having preaching/teaching gifts and abilities, I was far too young and immature to be unleashed on a congregation.
I knew my Bible, I was full of enthusiasm and zeal, I desired to preach the Gospel to all and sundry. It was agreed by all that I had good presentation and speaking skills, and was a good organiser. Oh! I was also very puritanical (no reflection on the Puritans whom I love). Piety exuded from my every pore. I was given many preaching assignments in our local congregations, as well as distant. In the years that followed I soon learned that there were many such young men.
In a short while I received several invitations to consider becoming "The Pastor" of distant congregations. After much discussion and prayer, my wife, family and I decided this was what God wanted for us, and accepted a call.
How gracious God was in those early years as He blessed our labors. Many new born children of God, the congregation doubled. A notable event occurred when a deacon, who had led young people, was church secretary, and an occasional preacher, for twenty-six years, stood before the congregation and confessed he had never known Christ and had just been born again. Our Sovereign God had over and over again blessed that precious congregation. Six years on another call was accepted. Again the Lord doubled the congregation.
During those years of rich blessing, our children grew, all becoming our brethren in Christ, all going on to be respected members of the communities in which they worked. I never fully understood just how gracious our God had been towards us, as a family, and especially myself!
One day, as I attended one of the regular denominational conferences for pastors, the reality of what I was experiencing hit me with such force I felt shocked. Almost all of these fellows, including myself, who shared the outward qualities I described above, changed when they came together. I heard jokes which would have made tough men blush, I heard unkind, unloving comments which surprised me. I joined in conversations about the workings of the denomination which were more about personal ambition, position and influence. The first words often spoken were, "How many baptisms since we last met?", or, "Has your membership grown?"
I realised, as well as a fallible man could , I didn't know an honest pastor, including myself!
We had shut ourselves away from reality. We were playing a part! We were hypocrites unwilling to face the truth about ourselves, that we had the same struggles as every other Christian has.
We thought that polishing the outside of the vessel was sufficient. We never let our congregations know that we were fighting spiritual battles in which we needed their support. We had disregarded the whole Biblical concept of the Body. We thought our congregations needed to understand that, but we could stand alone.
We hadn't recognised, nor openly admitted to our congregations, our utter weakness and need, and until we do, neither will those to whom we preach. Who decided that leaders are exempt from congregational participation in the exhortation to confess your sins to one another, to bear one anothers' burdens?
It's encouraging to see that there seems to be a new generation of young men, who are seeking an honest, open relationship with congregational brethren, recognising that "the ministry" is not their exclusive province while the congregations remain passive soaks of pastoral wisdom. They are recognising that, as elders, they are part, but not the most important part, of the whole, and as such have no need to play the super-spiritual, pious giant among men.
I trust they are recognising that there is only one such indispensable person to whom they are to point all men and women, and even He "has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin".