Dr. Ray Van Neste

Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
 

Director, R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies
Union University


 

 

On Receiving a New Pastor

 

Calling and receiving a new pastor is a significant occasion in the life of a church and therefore deserves some reflection.  As a church you should, and I believe you do, want to receive your new pastor well.  We would do well then to contemplate how you can receive him and his family well.

 

The primary issue in receiving a new pastor well is to understand the nature of the pastorate.  This is absolutely essential.  You must have a clear idea of what you have called this man to do.  You have called him to be your pastor, but what does this mean?  If you are not clear on this you might end up like someone who is:

-         upset with a quarterback who has thrown dozens of touchdown passes but has yet to hit a single home run.

-         upset with a baseball coach who has won lots of games but has yet to win a Super Bowl.

-         upset with a math teacher who did not explain nouns and pronouns well.

-         pleased with a banker because he is so pleasant even though he cannot find your savings!

If you are going to receive a new pastor well, if you are going to be a blessing to him, then you must have a clear, biblical view of what he is supposed to do.  Otherwise you might end up giving him a hard time about things which are not his responsibilities or praising him for the wrong things.

 

Furthermore, a clear, biblical view of pastoral ministry cannot be assumed today.  Rather, there is currently widespread misunderstanding and watering down of the pastorate, and this is tied to a diminished view of the church in general.  Most individuals and churches, including pastors themselves, fail to understand the gravity, the weightiness, of pastoral ministry.  I think the most common view is that the pastor is to fill the pulpit, be a nice guy and show up when needed.  This flows from a view of church which might be summarized as follows: going to church is something decent Christian folk are supposed to do, so in order to get that done we need a preacher.  In this view, the pastor should be enjoyable, easy to look at and listen to, certainly not talk very long, and generally not disturb life.  But this is a far cry from biblical pastoring.

 

I am convinced that scripturally the key metaphor for pastoral ministry is the oversight/guarding of souls (Heb 13:17; Acts 20:28; the imagery contained in the words ‘pastor’ and ‘overseer’).  This is what you have called a man to do- to watch over your souls as you make your pilgrimage to the Celestial City.  You have not simply called a man to keep programs going, but to guard your souls, to be a means of God’s grace in keeping you on the narrow path, to keep you from the shipwreck of your faith, to see you safely through this life and on to heaven- in short, to prevent your apostasy.  Consider the high importance of this!  This has been no ho-hum decision.  This is in no way akin to choosing some service provider- ‘Which cable company or internet service provider should we choose?’

 

If this is the lofty task to which this man is called, and for which God will hold him accountable (Heb 13:17), then how does one go about such a task.  Primarily, the guarding of souls is done according to the two apostolic priorities found in Acts 6: 10 the ministry of the Word and 2) prayer.  I will take these up in inverse order.

 

Prayer

He will watch over your souls by regularly and earnestly praying for the church as a whole, its vision, mission, unity, health, impact, etc.  Even more so, he will guard your souls by interceding for each one of you individually on a regular basis, praying for your spiritual health and growth.  In this he will be imitating the Chief Shepherd who said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded [permission] to  sift  you like wheat;  but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32).

 

Ministry of the Word

There are several facets of the ministry of the Word.  Paul refers to the breadth of this ministry when he characterizes his ministry as not holding back any profitable teaching but teaching them ‘publicly and house to house’ (Acts 20:20).  Thus, there is both the public and private or personal aspects of the ministry of the Word.  The public aspect is seen in sermons, and this is the bedrock of the ministry of the Word.  Here the pastor guards the souls of his people by exposing, warning of and rebuking error and sin, teaching and reveling in truth and showing how this is to be lived out.  In short, he is teaching the people how to make the journey.  Then in one to one settings the pastor watches over your souls by making specific applications of the scripture to your own situations bringing out all the ways scripture is profitable- teaching, correcting, rebuking and instructing (2 Tim 3:16).

 

Much more could be said about pastoral ministry but this sums up what the heart of his task is.  This is what you are to expect of him.  What, then, can you do to receive him well?

 

1.        Encourage him in the apostolic priorities- If he is guarding your souls by preaching the word to you clearly and fully and is praying for you, then do not make much of other faults.  Once you realize how deeply we need such oversight, once you truly yearn for the Word, you will be satisfied to receive it.  Martin Luther once said, ‘Those who hunger for the Word will not complain about the platter on which it is served.’  If you find that you are being taught and challenged from the Word don’t worry about his sense of fashion, the way his voice sounds, or whether or not he has completed your to do list.  Indeed, far from complaining about these other things, let him know how your soul has been blessed by his labors.  Let him know the benefit you receive from his teaching.  The great apostle Paul when considering the weightiness of the work of preaching said, ‘Who is adequate for these things?’ (2 Cor 2:16).  As Paul sensed his inadequacy for the task, so any man who takes this calling seriously will feel and feel often the weight of his own inadequacies.  He needs to know if the work of God is prospering in his hand.

It is easy to forget that our pastors are human and need encouragement like everyone else.  The more he loves you the more he will be burdened with worry over whether or not he is doing his task well.  Let me give you an example.  Here is what one godly, faithful pastor wrote one Monday morning.  This is the brutally honest cry form the heart of a good pastor.  Every good pastor Iknow feels like this sometime.

 

Is it just me or do all pastors feel on Monday like:

1. I didn't know my Bible well enough yesterday. There were too many questions left on the table.
2. I was not prepared enough in prayer and meditation. Rather, I just rushed to the pulpit after a dizzying morning of "Hellos," "I'm sorries," and "Good to see yous." The time I complained about not having should have been spent in prayer and supplication.
3. I probably said something to someone I shouldn't have.
4. I didn't say something to someone I should have.
5. I was the unfortunate and pitiable topic of yesterday's lunch conversation.
6. I failed to meet the church's expectations, whatever they were.
7. I faked my way through "worship" and hope the church didn't see through it.
8. I said nothing relevant, though I may have said some right things.
9. I spoke of holy things knowing full well holiness is the last word to describe me.
10. I am so egotistical to think yesterday was about my performance.

I don't want to feel this way as it is an affront to God's sovereign grace. It's obvious the recurring word above is "I." But, I just can't seem to help it. If you need me I'll be under my favorite rock.
(http://barryjmaxwell.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_barryjmaxwell_archive.html)

 

As your pastor labors to care for and you, let him know you appreciate his labors in the word and prayer.  And when he gives you this, don’t worry too much about other things.

 

2.        Give him time- If you do this first item, you must do this second one, for it takes time to earnestly pray and preach.  Most people do not realize how much time it takes.  Most of us have written a term paper somewhere along the way.  Preparing a sermon is like writing a new term paper each week.  Sermon preparation will easily consume 10-15 hours per week.  If you want to really be fed from the Word, you must give him this time to prepare.  Similarly, if you want your souls guarded in prayer, you must give him time.

Many people are willing to say their pastor should put this kind of time in, but the only way he can have this time is if some other demands are relaxed.  You must not expect him to make every visit.  We must reclaim a shared ministry where others are involved in checking in on people.  Some people have the idea that it does not matter who comes to visit, the pastor must come.  Get over such notions.  He will make some visits and will be there at crucial times, but if you catch the vision of him guarding your souls you will not mind him missing some things.

Similarly, you must give him time, by freeing him up from as many other tasks as possible.  When I came here as your interim, I received a key ring with many keys.  Eventually it was determined that only two keys actually went to anything- one for the door and one for the towel dispensers in the bathrooms.  When you give this keyring to your new pastor make sure this key to the towel dispensers is not on it.  It is not that he is above refilling the dispensers.  It is rather that you want to communicate to him that you want to free him up to do that which God expects of him and which you realize is so essential for your well-being.  I think I have put together that this church has in the past been overly pastor-dependent. You have had nine months now to get over that.  Don’t go back!

3.        Give him your ear- Be like the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness” (Acts 17:11).  As a result Scripture calls them “more noble-minded.”  And, if you receive the word with eagerness you will be willing to give him time to preach.  In the days of the Puritans, if a congregation appreciated their pastor they would sometimes give him an hourglass to time his sermon.  If they really appreciated him they would grant him a second turn!  Hungry souls do not complain about tarrying awhile about the buffet.

4.        Give him your prayers- Paul often asked the churches to pray for him. So in 2 Thess 3:1-2 he wrote, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified … and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men.”  Your pastor will need your prayers as much as you will need his.  On this point, we will do well to listen to the words of Gardiner Spring:

Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be very much such a minister as their prayers may make him.  If nothing short of Omnipotent grace can make a Christian, nothing less than this can make a faithful and successful minister of the Gospel! (p. 34)

 

If a people are looking for rich sermons from their minister, their prayers must supply him with the needed material; if they seek for faithful sermons, their prayers must urge him, by a full and uncompromising manifestation of the truth, to commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (see II Con 4:2) – If God’s people are going to expect powerful and successful sermons, their prayers must make him a blessing to the souls of men! (p. 35)

Oh, it is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. (p. 38)

Certainly Springer is right when he states, “Though little seen and less appreciated, those who help bear the pastoral burden through prayer are surely the most important co-workers any spiritual leader could ever have” (p. 31).

 

5.        Give him your respect- Heb 13:17

6.        Give him your heart- Love him and his family

7.        Give him your support- Here I am referring to your financial support.  A friend of mine who is a lawyer and a leading layman in his church says you can never approach deliberation about pay for a pastor by asking what his work is worth.  When you consider all he does and the eternal significance of it, you could never pay what it is worth.  Therefore, the goal of financial support from the church is to remove as many temporal concerns as possible from his life so he can be freed up to do this awesome work.  What this looks like in particulars will vary from church to church, but the spirit of it is what is so important.

John Angell James once wrote:

            Let all Christians therefore consider what is a just and generous reward for the labors of a man who is devoting his life to assist them in obtaining an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that does not fade away, an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory: who, in assisting them to gain eternal life, exerts at the same time an indirect, but beneficial influence upon all their material prosperity—who by his ministry, soothes their cares, lightens their sorrows, mortifies their sins. throws a radiance over their darkest scenes, and gilds their brightest ones with additional splendor. Who brings heaven down to earth for their comfort and elevates them from earth to heaven; and who, after tempering for them the ills of time with an anticipation of the joys of eternity, is prepared to attend them to the verge of the dark valley and irradiate its dark gloom with the visions of immortality.

            Let it not be thought that what is given, to a minister is a charitable donation; it is the payment of a just debt. (p. 25)

 

 

See: James, John Angell. The Duties of Church Members to Their Pastors & A Plea to Pray for Pastors / By John Angell James and by Gardiner Spring.  Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1999.  (ISBN:1-879737-39-6)