December 2, 2019

Worthy Emulation

Pastor’s appreciation month is fraught with perils as people often don’t believe the hours that pastors work, yet they and their families are held to high standards that are hard to reach for the best among us

Enter stage right:  the apostle Paul — a loose comparison by any standard as pastors are not apostles and should never be presumed as such. Yet Paul sets an example worthy of emulation. He recognized his frailty and wanted attention only for Jesus Whom he well knew was the One who worked the miracle of giving a man born lame the ability to stand on his feet in response to Paul’s brief command. 

He [the man born lame] listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We, too, are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:9‒15 NIV).

Yet, lessons can be learned from words Paul stated that never should be forgotten. When the people of Lystra saw an undeniable miracle worked by Paul and Barnabus, they were moved to commit sacrifice to these two great missionaries. 

I appeal to all leaders, pastors, elders and church workers to remember that we, although earthen vessels, are privileged to work miracles every time we speak. It is evidenced that the wonderful works of God follow our words. We can see that the sick are healed as we visit their bedsides, marriages are repaired as we speak words of biblical counsel to them, children are reunited with parents and, most importantly, people give their lives to Christ, the greatest miracle of all. We are called upon to speak life, but the power always is in God’s Word — not in us! The best sermons, in my estimation, are those that stay closest to the Word of God, because the power does not lie within our human abilities. 

So why, then, should we pray for pastors, thank them for their service, and lift up their families in prayer? Well, Paul has given good counsel. The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages” (1Timothy 5:17‒18 NIV).

While the church leader should never expect a gift in the month of October (as we are simply servant-leaders following Jesus), everyone wants to know that their labor of love is valued and appreciated. Thus, Paul is instructing us also that we should never take people for granted. The pastors’ hours are long because they pick up the pieces when we are in distress. They help us cope with loss. In addition to being there for us, they pray for us and even love us when we are truly unworthy of that love. Quite simply, much of what they do can never be mentioned to protect the privacy of families. Theirs is possibly the only discipline in which they are on call virtually all the time. So, Paul encourages a thoughtful approach to supporting church leaders. It is not one quickly executed because a month of appreciation is upon us but, rather, one that comes from a deep-seated sense that God provides leaders to grow His work. We should recognize, “Where would the work be without them?”  

During the years I served as a local church pastor, I asked the church (myself included) to simply give a gift of appreciation to the local elders. I didn’t do this every year, but looking back on their labor of love and now knowing that on any given Sabbath there may be more elders who have labored over a sermon that week for the benefit and blessing of the people of God than pastors, I wish I had done so much more often. 

Pastors, thank you for preaching like Paul. Thank you for presenting the wonderful message of the Three Angels of Revelation 14, which also recounts Who made the heavens, earth and seas. While we are in no wise perfect, attempt to live lives that are worthy of emulation, wrapped in the humble garb of servant leadership. Never run from service and never be afraid to lead because, when serving and leading, you are doing as Jesus did.

But also remember that, while it is nice to be appreciated, the best gift is recognizing others for their contribution to the finishing of the work. Share with them your words of encouragement.

The calling of God on the life of servant leaders may be much tougher than you can imagine. For those of us who may not love or appreciate our leaders, let’s ask God to fill our hearts with gratitude and lead us in ways that we can support and encourage. If we pray with a sincere heart, God will answer that prayer.

Pastors, their families and all church leaders are people, too. James reminds us with the words, Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three-and-a-half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops (James 5:17, 18 NIV).

If Elijah, too, was a human being like us, yet stopped the heavens from giving up their abundance of rain resulting in torrents of rain to come at his simple command, then maybe we can pray for an overabundance of the rain of love in our churches. I can think of no better place to start than with your church leaders. I think we can be hard on our leaders because we want them to be something we are not. There’s a word for that. It’s called hypocrisy. Indeed, all church leaders are fractured with faults and foibles, yet we should appreciate them. If for no other reason, we should be grateful that they were courageous enough to follow the calling of God on their lives. Remember Moses?

We, the followers of Jesus, will always have extensive flaws, failures and frailties, yet, together, we can change the world through our faith.   

Maurice Valentine, Lake Union Conference president