Give Us God
My Open Letter to Pastors
It’s amazing how many things churches don’t need. Churches, for instance, don’t need a full-time pastor. I’ve seen healthy, effective congregations led by energetic bi-vocational pastors. Churches don’t need to own a nice building. I’ve met with Chinese Christians in a rickety home and African pastors in an open-sided pavilion, where the rain drummed so loudly on the metal roof that it was sometimes difficult to hear.
Churches don’t need organs, baptismal tanks, or that little sign on the wall that advertises the hymns that will be sung in the service. Nor do they need drum sets, electric guitars, sound boards, graphics on the front wall, or a website. Dare I say it: they don’t even need to serve coffee.
Churches don’t need administrative support staff or a custodian. They don’t need a nursery or a dynamic children’s ministry. Of course, all these things can be greatly advantageous for the sake of Christ. But all over the world, churches are thriving without them.
What Every Good Church Needs
A healthy, fruitful church, however, cannot do without a few precious things if the people want to be the congregation God wants them to be.
Above all, a church must know and treasure and celebrate and commend the triune God. Without this, a church will cease to be a church in all but name. That’s why, when I recently preached the ordination sermon for a dear friend, I charged him from Ephesians 3, on behalf of our congregation, to be God-centered in his future ministry among us.
“Please give us nothing less than God himself.”
What churches and pastors need more than anything else is a great big vision of a great big God, a God of magnificent love and lavish grace. Ephesians 3:14–21 gives us that kind of vision. So, this can be an exhortation and a prayer not just for one pastor in one congregation, but for every pastor in every church. I’ve written it that way, as a letter from a church to its new pastor.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
We’re glad God has called you to shepherd our congregation. We love you, respect you, and pray for you. We know you’re human just like us. We don’t need you to be a perfect minister, because we’re all ministered to by a perfect God. The apostle Paul’s passionate prayer in Ephesians 3:14–21 for those he shepherded gives expression to some longings we feel for you as you shepherd us, so here are three heartfelt requests for your ministry.
Please Depend on God
As your church family, we’re grateful that you’re a competent person. But we want and need something much more and better than a competent pastor. We need a deeply God-dependent pastor. Paul models this dependence, because these verses are a prayer.
Paul longs for a powerful spiritual work to occur among Christians. How will it happen? He’s certainly working hard for it — he says he’s in prison for the sake of the gospel. Clearly, he’s not lazy or unmotivated. Equally clearly, however, is that his hard work is carried out in dependence upon God. In his prayer, he asks God to do the work he’s longing to see. He asks God because he knows God’s awesome power: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
“What churches and pastors need more than anything else is a great big vision of a great big God.”
You will show us your dependence upon God by being a man of prayer, praying for us as Paul prayed for his churches — sensitively, knowledgeably, alertly, specifically, and with utter, urgent dependence. Please don’t run in your own strength. Please don’t counsel us from your own wisdom. Please don’t preach to us your own words. Please don’t love us with your own love. When you visit us in the hospital or lead the funerals of those we lose, please don’t give us your own comfort.
Please trust God to be the source of every good thing in your ministry. Please depend on him.
Please Give Us God
We long for God to be not only the source of your ministry, but its substance. As your church family, we have many needs. We’re sometimes discouraged, sinful, and lonely. We lose our jobs, struggle financially, endure health difficulties, experience problems in our marriages and with our kids. What we need infinitely more than even the most helpful practical advice is a great big, compelling vision of God. Please make it the steady aim of your ministry to give us God.
The aim of Paul’s prayer appears in Ephesians 3:19: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” We love that phrase, “the fullness of God,” which refers to the sum of God’s character, person, and glory. Paul prays that Christians (ordinary Christians like us, not extraordinary saints) will be saturated with that — with the wisdom, beauty, justice, mercy, and tenderness of God. That’s Paul’s understanding of Christian maturity.
As a congregation, we long to be mature Christians, not spiritual babies. So, we need you to give us God. Every Sunday (and every day in between those Sundays) we need to hear you herald a great big vision of a great big God. We need you to be God-saturated so that you will convey God to us in in every aspect of your ministry among us: the counseling sessions you lead, the books you recommend, the sermons you preach, the relationships you build. Please give us nothing less than God himself.
Please Yearn for God’s Glory
Finally, in everything you do, in all your prayers, preaching, and leading, please yearn for God’s glory. Paul’s heartbeat is evident in Ephesians 3:20–21:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul’s ultimate aim is making known God’s worth everywhere, for all time (“forever and ever”). As your church family, we need you to treasure God above all things, to long not to make much of yourself but of God, to show God’s worth and make God famous among those who haven’t yet heard of him — and among those of us who have. Please yearn for God’s glory.
In Romans 11:36, Paul writes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” This expresses the kind of pastor we long for you to be. Please depend on God as the source of your ministry among us (“from him”). Please give us God as the substance of your ministry to us (“through him”). Please yearn for God’s glory as the ultimate goal of your ministry with us (“to him”). As you shepherd us, we will pray these things for you.