May I share with you something I have felt particularly keenly while serving the Lord as pastor of Lusaka Baptist Church?
The friends here in Lusaka have made me feel the great responsibility of shepherding the flock of God. Perhaps it has been their responsiveness to the Word of God and their sensitivity to the pastor’s ministry among them.
They have made me feel that my ministry is extremely important to them. They have, perhaps without realising it, made me even more aware of the poverty of my own resources and my absolute need of the Lord’s help.
Perhaps Africans are more demonstrative than Europeans. I have felt trusted by young couples, as we have spent time preparing them for marriage.
I have felt the same with new converts who are thrilled to find themselves at peace with God; and I have felt loved by friends in great need as we have sought to help them face the great trials and sorrows of life.
I have felt that, though the pastor must decrease as the Lord increases in the lives of his people, brothers and sisters in the Lord have truly trusted me to be with them, sharing in the joyful and sad moments of their lives.
I have felt too that many have expected the pastor to challenge and encourage them in their journey along the heavenly road. It continues to be a deeply humbling but very uplifting experience.
Just a beginner
In recent months I have felt that, even after years in the pastoral ministry, I am just a beginner in the work of the Lord. I have searched the Scriptures to discover afresh how I can enjoy those special spiritual resources that would make my ministry truly effective, both in the pulpit and from house to house.
How can I, for example, face a young Christian who is HIV positive and fearful that the flu virus he has might be the beginning of full-blown AIDS? What powerful words can I bring from Scripture?
The other day I realised, when talking to such a person, how sublime are the simple words of Paul in Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing.
I understood that God can clothe such plain words with divine authority and use them to bring deep peace to his troubled child. It is wonderful to see the fearful expression disappear and a smile creep over the face!
What of my public ministry to the saints? We all need the Word of God to be active in our souls. Every one of us is troubled by sin. We make wrong choices and face problems. We all need heavenly wisdom and the encouragement that comes from God’s Word to walk aright.
Our souls would starve if they did not receive the Christ-exalting ministry of God’s Word. As I face hundreds of hungry believers each week, how can I be sure that my ministry will meet their needs?
The Lord loves them much more than I do; each one is precious to him. When I face the Chief Shepherd, what will he say of my ministry to his beloved people?
It is amazing how these basic questions can so frequently disturb the mind of someone who has been privileged to pastor God’s people for many years!
I have asked myself also what it is that really makes the difference in gospel preaching. Every Sunday morning I face scores of unconverted people. I must preach the gospel to them, as a dying man to dying men.
Of course, I know I must be diligent in my study and fervent in prayer that the Lord will enable me to preach clearly and powerfully; that he, in his sovereign grace, will apply his word as he sees fit.
But is there anything more? I long for heavenly unction. I need that holy simplicity that makes every word weighty in the mind of the sinner. I need that touch of Christ as I speak of him and for him from the pulpit. Where can this be found?
So, we labour in the word and doctrine. We pray privately and with the saints. We enjoy the fellowship and encouragement of other brethren. But what else? Is there yet another spiritual ingredient?
Surely there must be. It has to be the state of the pastor’s soul before God. It is his personal holiness and communion with Christ. This vital ingredient is perhaps the most difficult matter of all.
For many pastors, it is not so hard to study the Scriptures. We love doing it. We can prepare our sermons, perceiving the powerful applications of the portions of God’s Word to the hearts and lives of the unsaved or the saved.
We can even give ourselves to prayer that the Lord will greatly bless the preaching. The hard part is the daily mortification of sin, the purity of our thoughts and the godliness of our speech and conduct.
Above all, we surely need to be in communion with the glorious God of heaven who, by his Spirit, is able to clothe his servants with the grace and unction that will make all the difference to their service.
To put it very simply, we all need a closer walk with God.
The Shunammite woman observed Elisha and, perhaps without realising it, exposed the secret of the prophet’s fruitful life.
She said to her husband: ‘Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly'(2 Kings 4:9). I have no idea how that lady read the character of Elisha but I am convinced that there is no real fruitfulness without holiness.
Every true church of Jesus Christ needs a holy man of God to be the pastor. I must ask myself: ‘Am I serious about that?’