Tag Archives: shepherd

Five Ways to Encourage the Pastor (Your Pastor) of that Small Little Church

They are unavoidable. We all have heroes and we always will.  You tend to admire people in your own profession. Celebrity pastors will always be with us. While smaller churches seem to provide the type of community life we desire, megachurches will always be here with all their attractions. Whether the great cathedral or the former theatre, these churches and their grandiose budgets and their next new building will be a part of the evangelical ethos for a long time.

But instead of criticizing mega-ness and celebrity pastors, we should build instead a positive theology of the local pastor down the road. The fellow who spent his years in seminary longing for his first pastorate, eager to serve God’s people. The guy who loves Jesus, but may not have all the rhetorical gifts nor the wardrobe of the other guy down the road who on his first week in his new church plant had 500 in attendance. What about that little guy who is simply happy in providing for his family and caring for his flock, but whose church may never peak beyond 100?

What then should we do about them? It seems like we spend much time criticizing the big pastor and we spend little time encouraging the pastors who most need encouragement.

Here then are five ways to encourage the pastor of that small church, perhaps your own pastor:

First, thank God for that pastor. Thank God that He placed a man who loves Jesus more than anything else to minister to you week after week. He spends his mornings engaging the text seeking for wisdom to provide for his little flock. He prays to God that he would use every word to speak truth into the heart of sinful man and renew the heart of the afflicted.

Secondly, engage his sermons on Sunday morning. Tell him how thankful you are for the connection he made or for that fresh insight he offered, or for his faithfulness to the text. Be specific. Generic praises are much too common. Engage with his text. It will make his 15-20 hours he pours each week into the sermon that more desirable the next week.

Thirdly, find ways to show him appreciation. I am sure that at times he is highly discouraged because the church has not grown, or because they may have lost two families in the last three weeks, or because of the pressures put on him to perform in a way that is not congruent with his own abilities, the pressures for him to do just one more thing on top of the dozens of demands he has on a regular basis. Show him appreciation. Send him a note of gratitude.

Fourthly, avoid as a parishioner the celebrity trap. You return from a conference where the lights were just right, the speakers were engaging, their quotes were just perfect, their suits fit just right, their jokes were hilarious, and their persuasive gifts were so evident while at the same time the AC barely works in your little buildng, the microphone offers its normal hiccup and your little church pastor is doing his best to communicate to you the first verse of Jeremiah 21. Love your pastor’s exposition of Jeremiah 21. Make Jeremiah your priority throughout the week. Meditate. Talk about Jeremiah. Follow your pastor’s lectionary rather than the latest celebrity series. Tell your children how grateful you are to sit under the preaching of a pastor who cares enough about the Bible to preach on obscure texts.

Finally, I am aware that small churches would grow with a little more enthusiasm, a little more charisma, a little more of this and that, and perhaps it should. But your pastor may simply be that guy who is not very engaging, but longs to be. He may not have the greatest rhetorical gifts, but you know without a shadow of the doubt that when he opens his Bible each week he is there prepared for the task ahead. That guy is worth gold. Treasure him. Let him know how your family has been renewed by his weekly labor of love.

Do you want the celebrity culture to stop affecting the way you think church ought to be? Then begin by doing the obvious. Begin by loving your little community and the shepherd who guides it each week.


Van Til’s Influence on Norman Shepherd

In Obedient Faith: A Festschrift for Norman Shepherd, Dr. Shepherd speaks to the influence of Van Til in his own thinking:

Van Til visited Westminster College in my senior year, and I heard his lecture on Noah. This lecture made a profound impact on my thinking. Van Til described how great teachers from several renowned universities came to Noah representing various philosophical positions. They disagreed among themselves, but they were united in explaining to this poor, benighted man how foolish he was to build an ark in the desert with only blue sky overhead. They were certain that there could not be such a flood as Noah predicted. But Noah continued pounding away because he believed what God said and acted accordingly. The floods did come. They swept away the professors of this world’s wisdom, but God spared Noah and his family. I left college with the deep conviction that God and his infallible Word are the ultimate reference point for all predication. Our calling in this life is to be faithful to every word he has spoken.

Brothers, We Should Stink!

Thabiti Anyabwile is at it again. According to Thabiti:

These days pastoral ministry has become more glamorous, fabulous, fashionable than ever. We hear nowadays of pastors driving expensive cars or being chauffeured, owning private jets, and living in opulent mansions. Once only the “prosperity preachers” and bona fide hucksters touted such lives; now your neighborhood “orthodox” super-pastor does the same. It’s all so pretty, perfumed with the world’s “best” of everything.

Pastoral ministry has lost its wilderness motif. She is no longer invested and involved in that labor of caring, shepherding, and defending the sheep. Pastors no longer live among the sheep for their sake, rather, they prefer the green pastures of the golf course, or spending time with the elite membership. Baxter would be shocked! How much time do we spend with your people? Do we smell like them? Do we stink because of their problems? Do our clerical clothes smell like their cigarettes? Thabiiti writes:

The apostle understands that shepherds should smell like sheep. The sheep’s wool should be lint on our clothes. Our boots should be caked with their mud and their mess. Our skin ought to bear teeth marks and the weather-beaten look of exposure to wind, sun, and rain in the fields. We belong among the people to such an extent that they can be called on to honestly testify that our lives as messengers commend the message. We should be so frequently among them that we smell like them, that we smell like their real lives, sometimes fragrant but more often sweaty, musty, offensive, begrimed from battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

What used to be a foundational feature of the pastoral ministry has now become a forgotten tradition. Perhaps we ought to smell ourselves at the end of our weeks, and ask whether our clothes have the scent of our people, whether they are messy from those long pastoral trips, whether they are stained from coffee, and whether they reflect the shepherd’s calling.

There are profound dangers in the “pastor as academician” phenomenon. All pastors are scholars, but all pastors must use their scholarship to comfort, encourage, rebuke, exhort, and love their people. Scholarship apart from the stinkiness of pastoral ministry is an unused scholarship.

So have we identified ourselves with our people? Do they know us? Do they know we care for them? What is our boast? Is it in the well-delivered homily? In our power and giftedness? If so, we need to change our clothes and put on those well-worn garments of a shepherd and truly cherish the aroma of pastoral ministry. As Thabiti concludes:

Brothers, we are shepherds down in the fields of life — and we should stink.