Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Pastors Need Your Help (Exodus 18:18-23)

Here, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gives him some sound, practical advice. There are simply too many people for Moses to manage alone. So, Jethro advises:

“You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So, it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people will go to their place in peace.”

Exodus 18:18-23

What Jethro says is easy enough to understand. He essentially tells Moses to delegate. During the brief time I spent in business school at Concordia University-Ann Arbor, Exodus 18 was used a lot in my management classes. Delegation is a great tool for any leader to use. As great as Moses was, he couldn’t do everything by himself. Indeed, everything great Moses did was actually God. The same is true for pastors. No matter how “great” a pastor is, he cannot do everything; and just like Moses, any greatness of his comes from God.

At the time of writing this devotional section, I came across a quote from the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel on the Office of the Holy Ministry in the Lutheran Confessions, “Pastors are anonymous, interchangeable instruments. It is good that we cover them up with vestments, and not pay attention to them but only to what they have been given to preach and teach and do” (many thanks to my friend and classmate, Ian Heinze, on Twitter, @TertulliansTur1, for sharing this quote).

The vestments have naught to do with the pastor; they have everything to do with Christ. A person not familiar with Lutheran liturgical tradition might think it brings all the focus and the attention on the pastor, but this is due to historical ignorance. Historically, the vestments have served to focus the layperson’s attention on Christ, hence the white and the various colours according to the Church Year. The vestments serve as a reminder that (a) the pastor is your servant/shepherd in Christ, and (b) everything he preaches, teaches, and does is in the stead and command of Christ. (More on these vestments in a later devotion.)

The pastor, called to a noble task though he is (1 Timothy 3:1), is only human. He cannot do everything, and the congregation cannot expect him or his wife to do everything. This is partly why congregations typically have a Board of Elders—among other things, they assist the pastor in church discipline. They help him bear the burden that comes with the pastoral office. There are also auxiliary ministries, such as a school if a church has one, that assists the pastor in teaching preschoolers, youth, and so forth since he cannot be everywhere at once and has limited energy and capabilities. To these boards and auxiliary ministries, the pastor delegates his authority given to him by God to help fulfil his office.

One common, unfair expectation put on pastors is the expectation that they will bring in a lot of new people into the church, especially if he’s new to the congregation, and especially when he’s a young pastor. Because he’s young and new, they think, he will suddenly attract new young members like a magnet. Yet this never happens because this is not how young people think! Young people simply don’t care about whether the pastor is young or old. They are far more interested in things like the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, community outreach, and authentic Christianity. (They also don’t care about contemporary worship over traditional worship. In fact, many of them prefer a traditional service.)

Whether the pastor is young or old, some congregations will expect the pastor to be the only one responsible for getting people into the church doors. Not only is this unrealistic, but this is also not what the pastor was called to do. When he takes his ordination vows, the pastor vows to preach and teach the Word and administer the Sacraments faithfully; he does not vow to ensure a dramatic increase in church membership. The size of a church is not the measure for success.

Will he at times bring some lost people through the church doors and catechise them as new members? Certainly, but the task of reaching the lost does not belong to the pastor alone; it is also a task belonging to the church’s members, for we are all disciples of Christ under the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Laypeople must recall their own vocations and consider how they might assist the pastor in reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The pastor cannot do it all.

In the same vein, it is not right to place unfair expectations on the pastor’s wife either, especially when they are new to the congregation. It is common that a congregation will expect the new pastor’s wife to do everything the previous pastor’s wife did. Other times, a congregation might expect the wife to do everything just as the pastor is supposed to do everything, as if they’re partners in ministry. But they’re not partners in ministry. Only men are called to the pastoral office (1 Timothy 2:11-14), and the wife has her vocations as wife, mother (if they have children), church member, and whatever job she has if she is working.

Even though she is the pastor’s wife, she is still just an ordinary church member, and she should be able to utilise her conscience to do as she desires in the church rather than whatever expectations the congregation might have for her. If she doesn’t want to be a member of the quilters’ guild, she doesn’t have to be. If she wants to work in the sacristy rather than leading the women’s Bible study like the last pastor’s wife did, let her serve the Lord’s church according to her desires. And so on.

Therefore, O reader mine, consider how you might help your pastor and his wife. How might you help him in his delegations? Is there a leadership opportunity for you on a board? Is there an opportunity for you to step down from a board you usually volunteer for and encourage a younger member to fulfil as you mentor them in this new vocation? Can you help babysit your pastor’s children one night? Is there a new or current outreach initiative at your church that you can join? In essence, what has your pastor already delegated that you can help with or encourage younger members to do for the first time? Think on these things, and you will have a much healthier and energetic pastor.

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