Saturday, March 01, 2008
Glory is one of my favorite all time movies. It was based on the events surrounding the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment one of the first all-black army regiments to serve in the Civil War. The movie starred Denzel Washington (for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick and many other actors who gave fine performances.
The movie did an excellent job of examining black manhood especially once the new soldiers are recruited and begin training. At one point they notice that unlike regular Union soldiers they do not have uniforms. This along with other issues uncovered some of the tensions the men had with their white officers and their real place in the scheme of things. Were they just eye candy for northern abolitionists or would they be treated like other American men who wanted to fight for their country? Eventually they get their uniforms which provided them with a palpable sense of pride in themselves and their regiment.
However, soon after receiving the uniforms the Union received a communication from the confederacy regarding black soldiers. In short the confederacy wanted to make it clear how they would regard black men taking up arms against the south and those who commanded them. White officers captured commanding black troops would be executed. Black troops wearing Union uniforms would be shot on sight. As the gravity of their situation sinks in Denzel’s character walks up to another soldier and in his best mocking sarcasm asks ‘still want that blue suit boy’?
Paul begins the third chapter of his first letter to Timothy by declaring that those who desire to serve God’s flock as overseers strive for a good and honorable work. An overseer is one who watches over the spiritual care, nurture and maturation of God’s people. What Paul did not say here but elsewhere is that this noble task is also a very, very difficult one. Though I’ve only been involved in full-time pastoral ministry for a short time (around 13 years and only about 6 as the lead pastor) I can still remember the zeal of my calling and the strong desire God gave me to serve Him by serving His people. I’m am filled with gratitude to my Lord for giving me my heart’s desire and allowing me to start and pastor a group of God’s people in the city of my birth. More than that He’s given me an outstanding group of saints to serve. The good folks of CLF astound me with their love for me, my wife and family. Their yearning to serve our Lord and support their pastor humbles me beyond measure and reminds me that though pastoral ministry is difficult and draining I still would want to do nothing else.
I would like to take just a moment to both encourage and caution those young men who like me are filled with zeal to preach, teach and lead the flock which Christ purchased with His own blood. My first admonition: slow down. Do not be so anxious and hasty to take the mantle of teaching. And always remember there is a distinction between teaching and shepherding. Pastoral ministry isn’t just about your knowledge or ability to deliver that knowledge with eloquence and power. More and more I’m finding the need to ask our Lord to just make me faithful in declaring His word regardless if I do it with great skill or eloquence. And more and more I’m asking Him to fill me with His Spirit so that I’ll serve the needs of God’s people with integrity, gentleness, humility and wisdom. Become an expert at cultivating humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and love for God’s people before becoming an expert at delivering the word and wowing the crowds. Or as the old saints would say ‘sit yo happy self down and get some God in your heart before you open your mouth!’
Here’s another admonition though it may appear to be a bit odd. Before entering pastoral ministry ask God to send you a good wife and learn the value of shepherding her even as you discover the depths of your own pride and selfishness. For too many years I neglected my own wife and pushed her to the margins for the sake of ’the ministry’. God showed me that it wasn’t He but myself I was serving. I was busily feeding my own need for affirmation and achievement. A man who neglects, is harsh with and emotionally abusive to his wife is a man who in a quest for his own name will abuse God’s people. The value of your theological acumen is greatly diminished if it hasn’t taught you the grace and humility to love your wife as Christ loves the church. A man who hasn’t come to the point of valuing, cherishing and building up his wife is one who has no business teaching, preaching to or leading the church Christ shed His own blood for.
Finally, though you’ve heard it before please take some time to pray for your pastor. Though he’s not perfect (and Lord knows we’re not) if he is striving to serve with integrity and faithfulness he needs your prayers. In fact, right after you read this take the time to pray for your pastor now. Pray for his strength, wisdom, perseverance and encouragement. Pray for the man who knowing the toll it takes on his family, his responsibility before His God, the care he has for the Lord’s flock and the fire he’s certain to receive from the enemy still decides to put that blue suit on with joy.
To Him Who Loves Us…