Recently I was in Quebec, ministering among French Canadian baptists. I was stunned to learn that in a denomination of roughly 100 churches, almost three dozen are without a pastor.
What a different context than many of us are familiar with! In a place where the pastoral supply is high, the churches’ demand, and appreciation, seems to go down. We tend to overlook, or underappreciate, that pastors are not to be presumed but are gifts from the risen Christ to his church.
Moreover, we live in an age that is becoming painfully cynical about leadership in general. Some of it is for good reasons; much of it is simply the mood of our times. Stories of use and abuse abound, and the letdowns make for big headlines. In the Information Age, we have more and quicker access than ever before to tales of bad leaders. In our own lives, we all have felt the sting of being let down by some leader. The pain and confusion are real. The wounds can be deep. We learn to guard ourselves from future disappointment. Cynicism can feel like a worthy shield.
But the high-profile failures mask the true source of our discontent with being led:
we love self and come to pine for self-rule.
Couple with it our generation’s distorted sense of what leadership is. When leadership has become a symbol of status, achievement, and privilege, we want to be the leader ourselves, not to bless others but to get our way. Understandably, then, we become reluctant to grant anyone else that authority over us.
Into such confusion, the Christian faith speaks a different message. We need leadership. It is for our good. We were designed to be led, first and foremost by God himself — through the God-man, Jesus. God designed our minds and hearts and bodies not to thrive in autonomy but to flourish under the wisdom and provision and care of worthy leaders and, most of all, under Christ himself. But there is more — which I hope might freshly encourage us who are pastors.
The risen Christ has appointed, even gifted his church with, human leaders, in submission to him, in local congregations. Precious as the priesthood of all believers is — a remarkable truth that was radically countercultural until the Reformation — today we have need to articulate anew the nature and goodness of local-church leadership as an important kind of gracious inequality within our equality in Christ.
One of the ways Christ governs his church, and blesses her, is by giving her the gift of leaders: “He gave . . . the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). Faithful pastors and elders are gifts from above to guide and keep the church. It may not be healthy for pastors to regularly preach this to ourselves, but it can be good to have someone else remind us of it from time to time.
So, dear brother pastors, you are a gift, from Jesus, to your flock. No matter what that recent email said. No matter how flat it seems your last sermon fell. No matter what you hear whispered about leaders in general, or the evident cynicism today posted in all caps.
No matter what has been said explicitly, or implied, to the contrary, dear brother, you — as you lean on Jesus and remain faithful to him and gladly work for the joy of your people in him — you are his gift to your church.
Now, let’s do as he’s called. Let’s feed his sheep.
DAVID MATHIS is senior teacher and executive editor at desiringGod.org and a pastor at Cities Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is author of Workers for Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders.