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Three Reminders for Discouraged Shepherds

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There are many joys that come along with shepherding God’s people. Hearing of members who are intentionally trying to share the gospel with unbelievers, seeing your people light up as they learn more about the hope that is theirs in the gospel, watching as members selflessly serve one another, and the list goes on. However, as any pastor will tell you, the job also has its share of discouragements.

Some pastors face criticism on a regular basis. Others feel frustrated because their people seem indifferent to the truths of God’s Word. Then there’s the pastor’s own sins and shortcomings, which are regularly exposed by the truths he proclaims. Add to all this the reality that the church’s spiritual growth is often slow (and at times imperceptible), and it’s easy to see how a pastor can start to wonder what good he is doing.

In light of these (and other) discouragements, I’d like to remind pastors of three privileges God has given them. These privileges may seem rather obvious, but I fear that unless we regularly stop and let them sink in, we will find it difficult to shepherd God’s people with joy.

1. You get to proclaim a message of infinite worth.

In the midst of preaching sermons, teaching classes, and leading small groups, you can, without realizing it, become numb to the greatness of God and His gospel. You can forget that the God whom you proclaim dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16), that He is unrivaled in glory and majesty (Is 48:11; Ps 148:13), that He is holy, righteous, and sovereign over all creation (Rev 15:4). And this God has sent His Son to take on flesh and die on a cross for undeserving sinners so that they might be reconciled to Him and enjoy Him forever (Jn 3:16).

No wonder the apostle Paul asked (rhetorically), “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16). Yes, we often feel weak, but remember, our weakness is part of God’s design. We aren’t spiritual supermen but rather “jars of clay” who hold an infinitely valuable “treasure” (2 Cor 4:7).

So the next time you lack motivation on a Sunday morning, remember the weight and worth of your message. You get to proclaim “things into which angels long to look” (1 Pet 1:12), so let this profound privilege reinvigorate your teaching and preaching and shepherding.

2. You get to shepherd people who are precious to Christ.

When Christians serve together over an extended period of time, it’s easy to fixate on one another’s shortcomings. Pastors, especially, can become experts in identifying all the ways in which they think their members need to grow. Not only can this blind you to your own sins but it can also make you forget that these people don’t ultimately belong to you. They belong to Christ, and He loves them deeply.

Prior to creation, God the Father gave to God the Son a people “out of the world” in order that they might know Him and see His glory (John 17:6). The Son purchased this people with His own blood. They are His body (1 Cor 12:27) and His bride (Rev 19:7; Eph 5:31–21), and they will one day reign with Him forever and ever (Rev 5:10). And, get this, some of these people are on your church role! How might this reality change the way you pray through your membership directory? How might it affect the way you relate to members who require more attention or correction?

These sheep belong to Christ, the Chief Shepherd, and He has given you the responsibility of watching over them for a short time. Yes, it’s a difficult task, but it’s more than that––it’s a distinct privilege. You are caring for “. . . the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, emphasis added).

3. You get to share in the grace that you proclaim to others.

Pastors rightly think of themselves as shepherds who feed their people with the Word of God (Jn 21:17; 1 Pet 5:2). However, long before we were shepherds, we were sheep who had gone astray (1 Pet 2:25). We were dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:1); we were slaves to sin (Rom 6:20; Titus 3:3); we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10). In other words, we are not simply conduits of grace but also recipients of grace.

Yes, God expects pastors to be examples to the flock (1 Tim 3:1–7, 4:16; 1Pet 5:3), and we shouldn’t minimize that responsibility. At the same time, pastors need regularly to be forgiven of their sins and to receive God’s daily bread (Matt 6:11). Like Paul, we should marvel at the Lord’s “mercy” and “perfect patience” toward us (1 Tim 1:16).

How easy it is for pastors to hold out God’s grace to others but then to evaluate their own lives and ministries by their efforts and (perceived) effectiveness. As if the gospel was good news for others but not for them! Pastor, Jesus is not pleased with your sins and shortcomings, but He’s not surprised by them either. He has more than enough grace for discouraged shepherds.

David Burnette serves as the editor/writer for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, where he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church.
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