Here’s an anonymous letter: “I pastor a church and I believe I have a healthy desire for God. However, I don’t always have a healthy or robust desire for my people. They can make the ministry trying and unenjoyable. Pastor John, what advice might you have for a pastor in my position?”
Well, I have a long string of ideas, probably because I am this guy. God calls a lot of introverts into the ministry. And these introverts must set themselves to love unrelentingly in the way they can love. And that is not going to look the same as the way an extrovert loves his people. And getting that clear can be very helpful and very freeing.
Ten Counsels for Pastors to Ponder
An introvert has no excuse not to love his people, but he cannot beat himself up that he is not like so and so, who is so unbelievably gifted in the way he moves among people. We watch him, and we go home, and we feel, “Shoot. If that is the way love is, do I have it?” That is what pastors must deal with if they are not wired that way. So, here are my several counsels:
1. The people you pastor are blood-bought.
Ponder the way Christ views his people. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” — here it is — “which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The point of that last statement is to awaken the cost of the purchase and the preciousness of what is purchased.
We pastors have the stupendous privilege of serving the people bought at the highest price imaginable in the universe. It is as if a king should call you a pastor and put you over a region of his kingdom that he just paid for at a higher price than any other region he ever bought, and he put you in charge of that position. We should stand in amazement that these people that we are called to serve are the purchase of God at the highest price imaginable. What an incredible privilege.
2. It is okay for pastors to see the imperfect bride.
We should ponder not only the purchase, but the aim:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25)
We should ponder that he didn’t purchase a pretty girl. He must wash her and remove her spots and her wrinkles and her blemishes. And Paul says, “or any such thing.” Christ is doing all of this by his blood, by his word. So it is okay to see the spots and wrinkles and blemishes. We would be stupid and naïve to think that the church was anything other than a pretty beat up and sick and wrinkled and blemished bride that we get the awesome privilege to join Christ in loving toward beauty. Toward beauty.
3. Jesus died for weak people.
We should remember that Jesus died for those who made his life very hard. That is what love is:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
The love of a pastor for his people is a love that precedes their beauty — precedes their readiness to be loved. And it slogs through a lot of misery, just like Jesus slogged through Calvary in order to save his bride.
4. Our rising and falling joy doesn’t render us inauthentic.
Remember that our joy in God and our joy in people rises and falls without being inauthentic. I think sometimes we can get the idea that, well, if it is low today, maybe it wasn’t even real before. But the Bible says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” So salvation’s joy can diminish — almost fade away — and we must cry out for it. And so can the love of people.
Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, “The love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” That means yesterday it was lower. Now, should you feel inauthentic about yesterday’s love because today’s love is intense? We really get into that kind of emotional battle, and coming to terms with the fact that our joy in God, our joy in people, our love for people rises and falls means that we must beware of not calling the low seasons inauthentic, just because they aren’t the high seasons.
5. Beware of an emotional view of love.
Beware of having a modern, romanticized, overly emotional view of love. We are told to reprove and rebuke and correct and discipline — most of which is experienced by especially wayward people as not very loving. They don’t like to be rebuked and corrected. And yet, they are forms of love. So beware of a modern, romanticized, overly emotional view.
6. Feed your people good food.
I often took heart in the ministry from Matthew 24:45, where Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
And I want to say to the pastor, “Did you feed them at the proper time with good food?” And Jesus says, “If you feed my people, I am going to find you loving them.” So, you feed your people, and you pray that your people would be well nourished by what you give them. And God’s favor rests on you.
7. Beware of judging your own authenticity.
Judge your authenticity not by general feelings — how you feel toward people — but by your specific affections in specific instances where you are reaching out to help those in need. This is something I just discovered very personally over the years. If I tried to think in general terms, “Do I love Bethlehem Baptist Church?” — that is just so vague and so impersonal. What kind of emotions are you supposed to spot in your heart when you talk that vaguely and generally?
But if I get a phone call when I don’t want to go to the hospital, and I have a crisis, and someone is on the brink of death, and I get in the car, and I go not wanting to go, and therefore, I am wondering, “Do I love this person?” almost every time that I have actually walked through a real door, taken a real hand, bent down over a real, tube-laden face after a heart attack — at that moment as I have said, “I am here. I would like to pray with you. May I share with you some hope-giving truth?” — God has caused my heart to well up with affection for that real, live person. And I have bent over some pretty cantankerous dying folks. And it has been sweet to me to have the Holy Spirit bear witness with my spirit, “You are really loving those people by my power now.” So beware of passing judgment on yourself in those vague, general moments.
8. Pray for your hardest-to-love people.
Pray that God would bless the people who are most irritating. Jesus said, “Pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). When you pray for blessing for someone you are finding a hard time liking, it often rises in your hearts that you can actually start to feel an affection for those people.
9. Pray to be amazed by your own salvation.
Pray for a clear and deeply felt wonder and amazement at your own salvation — your own being loved by Christ at the cost of his life. Be amazed that you are loved in spite of your sins, and you will more easily love others in spite of their sins.
10. Ask God for joy in your people.
And the last thing I would say is, Ask God for joy in your people and love for your people like Paul does when he prays, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). So pray, “God, help me love my people more and more.” Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). So, plead to God that you would be filled with him.