Ever since my jaw fracture forced me to the pastoral sidelines, I’ve given some thought to this question. How can a pastor’s extended absence from his church result in their greater good? In hopes the saints at OGC might actually thrive, not just survive, my health hiatus, I offer these Scripture verses as essential principles for being the church when the pastor can’t be the pastor:
- Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Stay anchored in the sovereignty of God. My mandible misery is no accident. His plan for His church to soldier on for the time being without me is precisely that–His plan.
- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This season–8 hour surgery, week-long hospital stay, and all the rest of it–abounds with good in it for me, my bride, as well as my church. For example, some things God can only do in his servant by laying him out. He can get your attention on the bench in ways you never realize in the game. The benefits of the trial accumulate by the day for me. Keep your eyes open similarly for yourself.
- For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Just like I remind everybody on day one of each Discover OGC membership class–I am NOT the senior pastor; Jesus is. Only one pastor holds the title “Chief Shepherd.” And He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Church, you always have Jesus.
- So I exhort the elders among you (1 Pet. 5:1a, emphasis added). This balances number 3. God does give to His church pastors and teachers to shepherd them (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Sometimes we need Jesus with skin on. But in wisdom He rests the pastoral load on a plurality of elders. You almost always find the word in the plural form in the New Testament. No church benefits by relying excessively on one leader. God has plans through my leave both to grow our other elders in their ministries and increase your legitimate reliance on their pastoral role in your life.
- And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). This piggybacks on number 4. Pastors don’t exist just to tend the saints’ spiritual needs; they have a calling to equip the saints for spiritual ministry. Church, the body of OGC needs every single one of you more than ever! Are you in the game or riding the pines on the sideline (assuming you have a choice)? Where are you bringing your spiritual gift(s) to bear on others in community (1 Pet. 4:10-11)? When you see a need in the body, are you asking the Lord how you possibly might be the one to meet it?
- For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19). I can think of no better place to end. My circumstances differ from Paul’s to be sure. But my need for your prayers and Jesus’ help doesn’t. May our heightened sense of need in this hard providence at the outset of 2016 cause us to seek His face like never before.
Lord willing, Jesus plans to restore me to the work at Orlando Grace before too long.
I look forward to coming back with a better-than-ever jaw and church to go with it. And that largely because you have been the church when this pastor could not be your pastor.