Why I Love the Temporariness of My Pastoral Ministry
I love thinking about the temporariness of my pastoral ministry.
Not because I don't like pastoral ministry. In fact, I love it.
Not because I'm tiring of it. I preached my first sermon nearly 40 years ago, yet I enter the pulpit today with a greater sense of the privilege than I did back then.
Perhaps I love thinking about the temporary nature of ministry because I've been with this congregation for over 20 years, which has taught me to be aware of my limitations. I remember that—unless the Lord comes back soon—I'm not the last senior pastor this congregation will have.
One way I can measure how well I'm focusing on the right things is by asking the simple question, "Am I preparing this congregation for the next man? Am I building this place around me, or am I reminding them that this is Christ's church, and that his Spirit will continue here long after I am gone?"
These are challenging questions. And they're humbling. They remind me that pastoral work is a privilege. They help me defeat temptations to wrong thinking. They help me remember that I'm here to do the same thing every other gospel-preaching pastor in Washington DC is here to do—bring God glory by bringing sinners to Christ and building up the body of Christ.
You'd be surprised, brother pastor, how quickly I forget that God's the point. I start to think it's all about me. Someone leaves the congregation, and I regard it as a personal rejection. So I build in cautions to help me keep from thinking this way. I try to develop relationships with other evangelical pastors. I pray regularly on Sunday mornings for the prosperity of other evangelical churches—even of other denominations. I pray for their pastors by name. I pray they would flourish.
The church—the true church—is God's church. It has been bought by his blood (Acts 20:28). It is destined to bring him glory (Eph. 3:10-11).
I love the way Charles Bridges put it in his classic book The Christian Ministry:
The Church is the mirror that reflects the whole effulgence of the Divine character. It is the grand scene, in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed to the universe. (p. 1)
Wow! And that's what God has called me—me!—and you, too, if you're a pastor, to steward. We know that we will face a stricter judgment as teachers (James 3:1). But if I can be used in this way, why would I live for anything smaller? What a privileged way to give my days!
But then, why mention how temporary it all is? If I love pastoring so much, why relish the fact that my pastoral ministry is temporary?
As much as I love Christ's church, by God's grace, I love Christ even more. And I desire to be with him. I weary of sin in this world—especially my own.
Recently, I was brought to tears—tears of anticipatory joy—as I listened to this haunting old Sacred Harp hymn "All is Well," in which a believer describes the coming of death.
What's this that steals, that steals upon my frame? Is it death, is it death?
That soon will quench, will quench this mortal flame, is it death, is it death?
If this be death, I soon shall be from ev'ry pain and sorrow free,
I shall the King of glory see, All is well, all is well!
Weep not, my friends, my friends weep not for me, All is well, all is well!
My sins forgiv'n, forgiv'n and I am free, All is well, all is well!
There's not a cloud that doth arise, to hide my Jesus from my eyes,
I soon shall mount the upper skies, All is well, all is well!
Hark! Hark! My Lord, my Lord and Master's voice, calls away, calls away!
I soon shall see—enjoy my happy choice, Why delay, why delay?
Farewell, my friends, adieu, adieu, I can no longer stay with you,
My glitt'ring crown appears in view, All is well, all is well!
If what we value most is our earthly status and position and success and reputation, we will never say "All is well" as death approaches. But if we really are about our Savior, and if everything we do is fundamentally out of love for him, then you and I can join with this hymn writer and exclaim, "All is well, all is well," because in having Christ, we have it all!