Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Pastors Need Forgiveness, Too (Leviticus 9)

Even though Aaron was a high priest, he still needed to make atonement for himself (v. 8) before he made atonement for the people (v. 15). This is similar to our eucharistic practice today. Before the pastor administers the Lord’s Supper to make atonement by the body and blood of Christ, he consumes the elements for himself first. I’m not sure if our reason for doing this is to follow the Levitical practice or if it’s simply for practical reasons (probably the latter). Either way, it demonstrates that the pastor also needs forgiveness, that is, that he also needs a Saviour. The pastor is not above repentance.

Because of the noble task to which he has been called (1 Timothy 3:1), Christians often place their pastors on this high pedestal, thinking they have more holiness or more access to God than they do. No, he is still just an ordinary man in need of forgiveness like any other person sitting in the pew. Your pastor, like these Levitical priests, are merely servants; they are not your lord, for that belongs to Christ alone. It is true that your pastor has a certain authority over you, such as the authority to forgive your sins and even withhold forgiveness in cases of hard-heartedness (John 20:21-23), authority in the church’s governance, and authority to discipline you, all of which comes from Christ, not from himself. But as with all authority, its purpose is to serve you, not to rule over you like a tyrant. Thus, when your pastor tells you that you’ve sinned in some way, heed his words, for this is the Word of God’s Law. And when he forgives you your sins by the stead and command of Jesus Christ, heed these words even more, for this is the Word of the Gospel of Christ our Saviour.

Pastors are not perfect. They will make mistakes. They will sin against you. At times, he may lose his temper, become impatient, dispirited, even burnt out, and so forth, for he is only human. Pastors, too, need forgiveness from both Christ the Lord and even you if he happens to sin against you. When the pastor, therefore, eats Christ’s body and drinks His blood directly after the Words of Institution, this is not for show. He, too, is being forgiven for all the mistakes he’s made, all the sins he’s committed, and the brokenness he also suffers.

I say all this not to caution you against your pastor, but to continue to be patient with him, loving toward him, and compassionate, for he carries a weighty task. He carries the burden of preaching the Word of God (which strikes the fear of God in him) and holding an office that the world is arduously attempting to undermine and dismantle. At times, he also must deal with wolves and antagonists in his own flock! So, don’t hesitate to check in on your pastor every now and then; the task to which he has been called, though noble, is no easy task. Forgive him when he fails; encourage and uplift him.

The Gospel he preaches to you every Sunday morning is for him, too. The Sacrament he consumes is for his forgiveness as well. And, just like you, he also needed Baptism to cleanse him from his sins and receive the Holy Spirit, without whom he would not be able to preach to you and comfort you. Remind him of this Good News of the Gospel. And as you show him this love and service, do not forget to love and serve your other neighbours just as well.

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