Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Pastors, Do Not Bear Your Congregation’s Burdens Alone (Numbers 11:10-17)

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the LORD, “Why have You dealt ill with Your servant? And why have I not found favour in Your sight, that You lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that You swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If You will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favour in Your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.”

Numbers 11:10-17

In the previous pastoral thought, the exhortation was to be careful when you complain to God, lest you incur His wrath. Ironically, the complaint of the people causes Moses to complain to God. He is hardly at fault, however. His duties are too much for him; he can’t do it all alone.

I can’t help but chuckle when Moses ends by saying, “If You will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favour in Your sight” (v. 15). Moses does have favour in God’s sight, and that’s why that instead of killing him, He tells him to gather 70 men of the elders of Israel to help him bear this burden of God’s people, upon whom He would put some of His Spirit that was on Moses.

Pastors, this is why we have Elders in our congregation. Only they don’t have some of the Spirit but they received the same Holy Spirit you did in full when you were baptised. They help us bear the burden of our ministry. They help us have the income we need to provide for our families (including raises), with acclimating to our communities when we receive a call, with things that go awry at the house, with antagonists in the church, with fundraising efforts at church, making sure we get the rest we need (which includes vacation), and so on.

One of my friends on Twitter, who’s a layman, once asked this question, “Is there anything special about the pastoral office? Is there anything that sets these men apart?” This is a loaded question, and space does not provide full coverage of this topic, but a few things can briefly be said about this question. If we’re talking about the ontology of the pastor based on his ordination, it’s a yes and no answer. Yes, he is “special,” although I don’t like that word. I prefer the term “set apart,” which is more biblical. Upon ordination, he is set apart to be the Absolution Man,[1] who is the designated, local man to whom God’s people go to receive forgiveness of sins in the Word and Sacraments, which the Holy Spirit confirms in his ordination. He is your pastor; nobody else has been publicly called and ordained to do this for you (see AC XIV).

On the other hand, no, he is not special. The ordination is not a sign that he is holier than any other person in the congregation; he is just an ordinary man whom the Holy Spirit has called through the Body of Christ (the church) to be the man who distributes the Lord’s means of grace to them. In short, the ordination does not occur because of some inherent holiness he has that no one else in the congregation possesses; the ordination occurs as the Holy Spirit’s confirmation that the Lord has called this man, at a specific time and in a specific location near you, to give you God’s good gifts. This isn’t to denigrate the pastoral office, of course. It truly is a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). I would say it’s the pastoral office that’s very special, not the man who occupies it.

Pastors do not have some innate ability, and neither are they given extraordinary powers from the Holy Spirit, to call fire down from Heaven or bear the burdens of a stiff-necked people. They are still just ordinary men; we can’t do everything by ourselves. When your pastor baptises a baby or gives you Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, it’s not him doing those miraculous things but the efficacy of the Word of God itself. Even in practical matters, we need assistance, and the Lord has blessed us with other men to help us bear the burdens of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Lean on them for support. Delegate certain tasks to them.

For much of my childhood and adolescence, my father worked arduously to teach me that it’s okay to ask for help. I have a learning disability, and one of my main problems was that I never asked for help. Some would say it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, but I disagree. We ask for help precisely because we cannot do it, which is weakness on our part. Having weaknesses are not necessarily a bad thing. We all have weaknesses on this side of the Fall of Man; it would be foolish not to acknowledge this. Asking for help is a sign that you’re too weak to do something, but there is no shame in asking for help because we all need help with certain things. God did not design us to go at things alone; He designed us to do things together (hence why we call our church body a synod, which comes from Greek words that mean “walking together”). This is why, for example, woman was created in the first place; it was not good that Adam was alone. He needed a helper fit for him, and a woman was the only being fit to be his helper.

But I digress. Pastors, not only do you have your wife (if you’re married), but you also have your Elders, not to mention other boards/committees (whatever you call them) like education, stewardship, and others. These are God’s gifts to you. Use them. They will help you “bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (v. 17).

[1] Many thanks to Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann for this term.

Theology Terms Used

  • Ontology: the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence of a being (e.g., what makes God God, what makes one human).

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