Complete Patience

Speaking on pastoral caution when dealing with change, and recounting advice given to him by a trusted and “seasoned” pastor, H. B. Charles Jr. points the reader at 2 Timothy 4:2. Rather than focus on the “preach the Word” part, these men instead point us to the closing words, “…with complete patience and teaching.” Some great comments flow out of this:

“Complete patience” is long-suffering. It is patience with difficult people, not just difficult circumstances. This is not an easy thing to do. Remember, Moses stood courageous before Pharaoh and demanded that he let the people of God go free. But when those same people started complaining, Moses sinned against God and was disqualified from leading the children of Israel into Canaan. As pastors, we must not play the Jonah…I’m talking the Jonah at the end of the story, who carried out his ministry assignment with a hateful attitude towards the very people he was called to serve. We must patiently love the people the Lord has called us to lead and teach.

How do you learn to practice complete patience with the people you pastor? I believe it happens through a commitment to biblical teaching. Teaching explains and exhorts biblical truth…Our willingness to teach the Word with complete patience demonstrates our confidence in Scripture. It reveals that you believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word to do its work in the life of the church. At the end of the day, true spiritual change does not happen by “casting vision.” It happens by faithfully teaching doctrinal truth. This is an essential but neglected key to faithful and effective pastoral ministry.

On Pastoring, pp.89-90

All this goes towards making a great point. Sometimes, it is best to be slow. Our culture’s quest for speed and results doesn’t always line up with God’s timing. Teach, and teach again. Or as he comments, “Teach it. Then wait. Teach it again. Then wait. Teach. And wait.” If our aim is more than numbers, more than just a big reputation – whether good or bad – then we must be about the long haul. Commit to patiently and lovingly teach God’s word. A healthy church does not just materialize over night. It is the fruit of patient work. More than that, it is a work of God’s Spirit through that consistent and patiently preached and taught Word.

How Flawed and Insufficient Your Love Is

I’ve now started into my next book, as I had mentioned in the last post. Chapter 2 of Discipling is titled “Oriented Towards Others”. A number of passages are addressed as Dever talks about the biblical pattern we experience in Jesus through the gospels, as well as the example Paul provides. But the one that stood out for me was Colossians 1:28-29. He looks at it through the lens of two different word pairs.

The first pair is “toil” and “struggling”, reflecting on the need to engage, to work hard to see the gospel take root. Discipleship doesn’t just happen. It takes conscious effort, fueled by the work God is doing in us. The second pair was “proclaim” and “present”. Here, while he is usually not making any pastoral-specific points, he does make a detour, and I am glad he did:

A Brief Word to Pastors

If you are a pastor or are considering the pastoral ministry, you should think long and hard about this passage [Col 1:28-29]. Notice that the ministry involves both fully proclaiming the Word of God and working to present the people of God mature before him.

This requires utter selflessness on our part. There is much that is good about being a pastor, but, given the sinfulness in both church members and pastors, there is also much that’s tough. Pastor, you will toil and struggle out of love for the members of your congregation, and they sometimes will respond by explaining how flawed and insufficient your love is.

Ultimately therefore, your toil and labor cannot root in your love for them or their love for you. It must root in your love for Christ, his love for you, and his love for them. He has purchased them with his blood. And you mean to present them to him. It is for him that you do it all.

Discipling, pp.32-33

He ends the chapter returning to the need for all Christians to be disciplers, each of us one who “proclaims now so that he might present later.”

Beyond what I found to be a well-aimed reminder, I thought this chapter was well timed, as well. The overlap between Colossians 1:28-29 and Ephesians 1:1-14, which our men’s group studied this morning, made me pause for a moment. God be praised for seeing fit to shower us with his grace at the right time, to call us into the work of developing biblical maturity in those we have been connected with through the Spirit.

Dropping The Book For A Moment

So, this morning, I just need to put the textbook down for a moment and write. My hope is to give you a brief, inside look into what it feels like to be in non-vocational pastoral ministry. And I’d say vocational pastoral ministry, too, though I don’t have that exact experience. I don’t often write like this, because often it is hard to know what I should share. Other times, it is a chore to determine whether sharing something will be received as a targeted rebuke, rather than a general encouragement, etc.

The thing I most want to say is that, in my experience, if you are a member of a local body of believers, you are being prayed for. You’re likely being prayed for either way, but as a member of a local body, I can say it with much greater certainty.

You may be a faithful servant, teaching kids, or serving in behind-the-scenes ministry, or highly visible, singing or playing an instrument. You are being prayed for. Your spouse (if you have one) is being prayed for. Your marriage is being brought before the throne. Your kids (if you have them), their goals, their longings, their futures, are all being lifted up. We are praying for God to lead you – to direct your words with friends, to forgive when necessary, to show and receive mercy as you become more like Christ. We are praying you will be rescued from temptation, that you will be a humble and wise witness of the love of Christ in a fallen world.

Or you may be struggling to find connection. You may be having a hard time relating to a leader or another member. You may want things about worship, or children’s ministry, or church direction, that just aren’t happening though you wish they would. You may be absent because of Covid, or present, but feeling invisible. You are being prayed for. Your spouse is being prayed for. Your marriage is being brought before the throne. Your kids, their goals, their longings, their futures, are all being lifted up. We are praying for deeper connection with the local body. We are praying for friendships to be built, for the Spirit to bring unity. We are praying for the church to be what Scripture calls it to be. And we are encouraging other servants in the body to pray, too. To reach out with a meal, with a conversation, with an open home.

I’m not looking for applause or even kudos – I am not always (or often) the best at this. But if you sometimes wonder whether your service is worth it, or if you are even noticed, the answer is, “Yes!” You are loved and cared for. Frequently I am at a loss for how to serve hurting people well. How to reignite the flames of a marriage, how to rekindle a passion for ministry, how to encourage involvement in the body. I need the local body, and the wisdom of the Spirit, too. But we are praying. We are watching to see hearts who are willing to step into those difficult spaces and build connections. We are looking for those who are willing to sacrifice to serve others well.

Non-vocational pastoral/elder ministry looks like unanswered texts and calls, trying to reach out to people and wondering if you’ve done something wrong. It can be discouraging, honestly. It looks like sleepless nights (or waking up unintentionally sometime around 3AM) and praying for the body because you long to see it thrive, to glow with the person of Jesus. It looks like trying to bring Scripture to bear on real issues that people are dealing with, and it looks like holding out heady truths about who God is, what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, and what the Spirit is doing in and through the local body of Christ. Often these two threads are more related than we know or believe.

Thankfully, it is also watching worship come alive on the faces of people God has changed. Discouragement is met by the Spirit speaking and the knowledge that others are praying for me. I get to watch people serve in so many different ways, all according to the way God has gifted them. It is seeing people grow more patient towards their children, more forgiving with their spouses, more aware of their sin and more passionate about Christ’s people.

But overwhelmingly it looks like prayer. Prayer for laborers in the field. Prayers for unity in the body. Prayers for God’s will to empower and guide everything we do. Prayers for wisdom and forgiveness when we fail to be what God calls us to be. It is prayer for the church to be the church and you to be an active and integral part of that local assembly. Not some ethereal entity, nor just a location to meet on a particular day of the week, but a vital people called out by God to love one another. The reign of God in the present, and the new people he has created, really do matter!

And with that said, time to get back to a book review on “Killing a Messiah” (good book, by the way) and studying for a final exam. But I’ll still be praying.