Pastor John, speak to pastors (and speak about pastoring) in answering why you choose to tweet and blog in the midst of destructive natural disasters like tornados. What’s the goal in doing this?
The goal of pastoral ministry is faith in our people and glory for our God. And for all of that — great faith, strong faith, indomitable faith glorifying God — to spill over for the same in the world. We want more of that to happen in the world. We don’t want our people to stumble into unbelief or doubt when they are clobbered by some grief, loss, pain, or suffering. We don’t want God to be dishonored. These are the two huge goals for pastoral ministry — and, I think, for all of life — we want to help people be strong in faith and we want to give glory to God.
“The goal of pastoral ministry is faith in our people and glory for our God.”
Pain and suffering and calamities and cancer and the loss of loved ones are huge tests of faith. Pastors aim to help their people be strong in those seasons, and we do it before them, during them, and after them. I think it is crucial that we focus on all three of those before the calamity comes. We prepare them with true views of God, his sovereign goodness, his deep love for them, and their confidence in him. And we do it during the events by being there.
It is really crucial that, as pastors, we be there for our people, perhaps even in silence like Job’s friends. In the first, golden seven days of their ministry, they were not trying to persuade Job of bad theology, like: God only blesses the good and he punishes the bad. That is bad theology. When they were quiet, they were more helpful than when they spoke.
Silence and Speech
I have sat for long stretches of time saying nothing with a 23-year-old man whose wife had just been killed after being married three months. I walked into the room. The body was in the next room. He hadn’t even seen her yet. I sat down and looked at the situation. I thought, This is not a time to say anything. We sat there for maybe half an hour in total silence. And then I heard him begin to sing. He was singing a little song, and I started crying and thought, Okay, this man might be ready to hear me sing or say something.
On the other hand, I have walked into a room and the first thing a husband said to me, with his wife in emergency surgery after a heart attack, was, “John, tell us something important from the word. Give us something from the word, John.” And so, I know that during the moment, right in the moment of loss, there is a time for silence. There is a time for speaking. And we should remember to help people afterward.
My mom died in 1974. I still get emails from people who remember December 16 for me. Isn’t that amazing? They write to me and say, “Thinking about your mom and what she meant to me,” on that day. That was 38 years ago. So it matters that we get our people ready before, during, and after.
Preparing the People
I think that most of our effort should go into helping them before, because that is where we spend most of our time. We are not in calamity most of our life. We are preparing for it most of our life. So, I think that we as pastors have to think through all of our options. We have our pulpit. We may have a newsletter. We may have a blog or a Twitter account. We always have a bedside to go to. I think a pastor has to always be thinking, How is what I am doing preparing my people?
So, one of the things I think about whenever a calamity happens is not just what I should or shouldn’t say in the midst of it for those there in the calamity, but what I should say, how I should comport myself for the sake of my people, for the sake of my family, for those who are not in the calamity and are watching what I say about a calamity when it comes. That is partly the way I am thinking when I think about my people, as well as those who are in the calamity.
With the Internet, we can be transported into calamity within moments, even if we’re not personally touched by it. So it seems there’s an opportunity to address the situation in the moment, and maybe those on the ground who are touched by the disaster will not even hear it.
That’s right. And it is complicated because those on the ground may read it. That is the new phenomenon that we have with blogs and Twitter: anybody anywhere in any condition can read anything we say addressing any situation. And we have to be ready for the fact that if we say something we think will be helpful to one group, another group might read it and not be helped by it. Thus, we are always making judgment calls about whether this will be helpful or not to the greatest number of people. We can miss that sometimes, and we have to be ready for people to say, “You didn’t help me.” And another set of people will say, “Thank you very much.” And we just hope and pray that we are wise enough, say things often enough, and in a diverse enough way so that lots of people are blessed by what we say.
So one reason you want to address natural disasters when they happen is so that those who are listening on Twitter will be thinking about God’s sovereignty over life before they are themselves in the hospital facing cancer and calamity in their own life.
Yes. I have people in mind who have been through the issue a year ago or ten years ago, people who are in the suffering right now, and people who will go through it in a year. My goal is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. I want their faith to be preserved. I want every tweet I tweet, every blog I write, every sermon I preach to be a means for people’s indomitable joy in the face of horrible loss, whether they have gone through it, are in it, or will go through it.