Monday, October 26, 2015

A Pastor Indeed

Friday, December 3, 1993. We arrived at our new apartment in Panama City, Florida, ready to engage in the new ministry assignment the Lord was providing. At the time, we had no idea that we were about to meet some of the best friends of our lives and by far some of the best students we would ever have the honor of serving. In God's unique way, we also met the man who would be our pastor for the next 22 years. I have served with several men who were also pastors, and as church environments changed, so did the men who served in those roles. I have been on the staff side of the pulpit and the member side of the pulpit, and as a church member, I have also had many pastors who made strong impacts on my life. Even today, our family belongs to a church body that like most has a man at the helm in the role of Pastor. We have only been attending this church for a little more than a year, and I hope to get to know our pastor over time. We have a large congregation so doing so can be difficult, to say the least. While I have had many men influence my journey as they served in the role of pastor for various congregations, there is one man who has transcended geography and years. In fact, he has proven to be more than a pastor. He also is a friend. 

We actually only served together on staff for less than a year, but that year was enough for me to see that this man had a pastor's heart that could not be matched. As time has aged me, I have studied extensively what the Word teaches about pastors, elders, bishops (all used interchangeably by Luke, Paul, and Peter). Personal  study and academic study all lead to one conclusion. When Jesus left His bride in the care of under-shepherds and gave instructions on how the body of Christ should be cared for, he must have had my Pastor in mind. I've never met a man who loves the church quite like he does. He knows his congregation, and he loves us often to his own expense. He prayerfully considers how the Lord is moving in and around us and designs worship experiences for us to meet together as a congregation around the throne of God. He has invested in the lives of many adults, students and children over the years, most recently my own, as he carries out the passion of his heart discipling the body of Christ in the word of God through the primary ministry to which he has been called. Many might be surprised to discover that my Pastor is a Worship Pastor. Minister of Music; Worship Leader; Jack of all Trades; Chief Bottle Washer. He has worn many hats and labels over the years, but the one that means the most to me and to my family is, of course, at the risk of being redundant - PASTOR. 

My pastor exemplifies Paul's qualifications for what it takes to lead God's people. You could read the qualifications in Paul's letter to Timothy and to Titus, and you could insert his name in the appropriate places. Many pastors meet most of the qualifications, and fail at some, but not my Pastor. While he is not perfect, he does demonstrate on a consistent basis that he wants his life to honor the Lord. He never seeks acclaim or recognition. His family is a testimony to his leadership, a trait also described in Paul's writings. His wife is a Godly woman, and his children love the Lord by loving their families and training them in the ways of God. They serve actively in the local church and strive to display Christ to those around them. 

I was reminded most recently of the impact my pastor has had on my family as I listened to the youth choir from our church singing at a local nursing home. My daughter loves to sing and having the opportunity to be in the choir is a highlight for her. My oldest son has traditionally ... well, he's .... hmmm, how should I say it? He has managed to dodge the children's choir bullet in every church we have ever attended or served, and most recently we have been at churches that did not have a youth choir so he effectively avoided that one as well. Until now. He actually has joined the youth choir. I know. I know. Sit back. I hear Fred Sanford in the background. This is the big one Elizabeth. What in the world would draw these two teenagers into a group that they really have not had any exposure to in years? It's not a what. It's a who. He is our pastor. 

The word pastor is actually only used as a noun in scripture one time, and that one time is in the book of Ephesians as Paul lays out the roles that God has given the church in order to function effectively. The word comes from a Greek word meaning "to shepherd," and for many of us we consider the pastor primarily a shepherd who visits the sick and preaches the word. Actually in Ezekiel, the Lord brings condemnation on the shepherds and tells them that He is going to remove them from their position. He says that He will shepherd His people, and Jesus took that label in the Gospel of John when He said, "I am the good Shepherd." Because of the harsh language of Ezekiel and the words of Jesus in John, married with the writings of Luke, Paul, and Peter, I am sometimes hesitant to use the word "shepherd" when it comes to describing the role of Pastor. The other words used in the New Testament are Greek words for our English translations "elder" and "bishop." Literally the words describe someone who has experience often coming with age who can oversee the spiritual matters of the body of Christ, particularly making sure that the people are equipped for the work God has called them to do. Many functions accomplish this task, but the overall task is to work within the body to grow the body to reflect the character of Jesus. Wow. Now that's a big responsibility when people like me are part of the church because I'm pretty flawed. There is a lot of growth to be done in me. I know that I am ultimately responsible for my own walk with Christ, but the Bible is pretty clear that Pastors do bear some responsibility in that process. I am blessed to have one who invested in me over the years, and I am honest enough to say there are still "many miles before I sleep." 

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and over the next few days, I hope to share some different insights about the role of pastors. Hopefully this post is a start to set the tone for what is to come. I'd like to officially say thank you to the man who has been my friend, my mentor, and my pastor for 22 years. 

Ricky Clark, you are appreciated this month and every month, and you are loved. You are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and I am humbled to learn from you how to worship my King and how to embrace the journey of sanctification.

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