The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy
Redeemer Bible Church | Minnetonka, Minnesota
One of the reasons that it is a great honor to preach the word today in this installation is that I get to be a part of something that is vastly more important than most of what, say, the President of the United States does. I mean that literally and without exaggeration.
Donald Trump was installed 36 days ago as President of the United States of America. Today we install your new pastor. Since this installation of the president, he has been meeting with people whose influence may be captivating to the media but who will have little effect on eternity. For my part, I care very little about doing things that have little effect on eternity. This is why I prefer to be here rather than there.
Nothing Compares to the Church
The people of Redeemer who will meet with your pastor week after week in the coming years are marked in ways that make you far more significant than most of the people the president meets with. There is no other gathering in the world like the gathering of Christian people in worship. You need to know this and feel it.
- You are a people of God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9).
- You were chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
- You are destined to become like the Son of God (Romans 8:29).
- You were bought with divine blood (Acts 20:28).
- You are acquitted and accepted before the court of heaven (Romans 5:1; 15:16).
- You are a new creation on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- You are indwelt by the Spirit of the creator of the universe (1 Corinthians 6:19).
- You have been made holy by the body of Jesus (Hebrews 10:10).
- You are called to eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).
- You are heirs of the world — all things are yours (Romans 4:13; 1 Corinthians 3:21–23).
- You are destined to rule with Christ over all things (Revelation 3:21).
- You are appointed to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
- You will live forever.
There is no other gathering like the gathering of a Christian church. It is incomparable.
The Word and Worship Transform
And not only that, but the word — the Scripture — that will be opened here week after week, and applied to you for the direction of your souls is infinitely — I choose the word carefully — more authoritative than all presidential directives put together. The word of God, the Scriptures, that will mark these gatherings for years to come, is infinitely wiser, deeper, sweeter, purer, stronger, more effective, more transforming, more durable, more reliable, more lasting, more satisfying than all the directives and legislation that will come out of Washington in the next four years.
Not only that, but as you gather here under the word of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God — as the eternally loved people of God — you will in fact, and in reality, meet God in your worship. God will come to you in unique and manifest ways that he reserves for the gathered family of God in worship. He will be enthroned uniquely on your corporate praises.He will reveal himself to you as you love him together in this room.
“There is no other gathering like the gathering of a Christian church. It is incomparable.”
He will heal broken marriages as a husband and a wife sing in the presence of God and feel the impossible become possible. He will humble the most arrogant sinner so that he walks out of worship like a little child before God. He will shine his light on your utter confusion, and you will leave knowing the way to go. He will catch you falling over the cliff of hopelessness and by the end of the service you will feel solid ground under your feet. He will convict you of the ugliness of a hidden habit that is quietly destroying your life, and you will walk out, not resolved to be free, but free.
In other words, today we are standing at the front of new chapter in the life of this church. I want you to have a fresh realization of who you are as the everlasting, invincible people of God, and what the word of God is that will be heralded over you for the rest of your days, and what it means that God almighty will meet with you in this very room week after week. If you get this fresh realization, then you will know that what happens here puts the president and the congress and the supreme court in their respectable, but, by comparison, minor role in the universe compare to what happens in the church.
And all that is to say thank you for this privilege of being with you at this momentous time in the life of your church.
Pastors Watch, People Obey
It seemed to me that at such a juncture I should address the relationship between a church and its leaders — specifically the relationship between you the people and your new pastor. To do that I would like us to turn to Hebrews 13:17.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Notice that even though this verse is addressed directly to the people of the church — to you — it clearly carries instruction for the leaders for how to do their work. Because it’s telling the people how to help them do their work. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning . . .”
So the leaders are to keep watch over your souls, and the church is to submit to them in that care. And if we had time, it would be so valuable to talk in detail about nature of that pastoral watchfulness, and the nature of that congregational obedience and submission. But instead of focusing specifically and directly on the what those two roles of pastor and people are, what I want to do is go to what I think is the heart and essence of this verse, which, if we grasp it, will protect us from the abuses of the ministry, and will lead us to experience the essence of the beauty of the relationship between a people and her leaders.
Joy Sustains You on the Job
So let’s focus mainly on the central dynamic between leaders and people in this verse. At that center is joy: “Let them do this with joy.” The function of joy in the argument of this verse and in the relationship between pastors and people is stunning and profound. And I pray that in the years to come, your church will be marked by this stunning profundity.
On the one hand it is clear that a pastor, reading this verse, must realize that to be a faithful, loving, biblical, fruitful pastor, he must pursue his joy. If he is indifferent to his own joy in the ministry, he will be not be helpful to his people. Make sure you see this.
The people are being addressed, but the pastor clearly hears what is being expected of him here.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this [literally: in order that they may do this] with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Now a pastor hearing this realizes, If I groan with the burdens and difficulties of the ministry and am not sustained by joy in this work, I will be of no advantage to my people. That is really important — no advantage to my people, no good for them, no blessing to them, no help to them.
So as he ponders he realizes: In order to love my people — to serve them and be of an advantage to them — I must devote myself to being happy in this work. I cannot let my heart be defeated by this work. I can’t act as though emotions are superfluous. As though I just need to do my duty and show up with a plan and word from God. And how I feel doesn’t matter as long as I do my duty. No. This this text says joy is your duty. Because love is your duty, and your people will not be loved without your joy. If you try to do this ministry dutifully, without pursuing your joy in it as part of your duty, this people will gain no advantage. That is, they will not be loved.
Müller: “The first great business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”
Keep Your Soul Happy
So the first thing we see about joy in verse 17 is that it is essential to pastoral faithfulness for the sake of the people, and therefore central to the pastoral calling. Pastors dare not grow weary in the maintenance of their joy — authentic joy, not contrived joy! And believe me it is war. Like Flannery O’Connor said: “Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy — fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest” (126). Or like George Müller wrote about his own warfare:
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. (Autobiography, 1:271.)
How can that not be implied in Hebrews 13:17, when the writer says, “Pastors, if you go about your ministry with groaning and not joy, you will be of no advantage to your people”?
Pursue Your Pastors’ Joy
But things become even more striking when we look at joy not from the side of the leaders, but from the side of the people being led. They are the ones who are explicitly told to pursue their pastors’ joy:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this [literally: in order that they may do this] with joy and not with groaning . . .
People, submit to their watch-care in such a way that they might do it not with groaning, but with joy. People, seek the joy of your pastors. Respond to them, work with them, so as to minimize their groaning and maximize their joy. “Let them do this with joy!”
But here is what is so striking: the writer makes it explicit why they should do this — why they should try to make the ministry of the pastors a joyful one, not a groaning one. He says at the end of the verse, “Let them [do their ministry] with joy and not with groaning, for [because] that would be of no advantage to you.”
What an amazing argument! In other words, seek the joy of your pastors, because if you don’t, then you won’t have joy from their ministry. Their ministry will be no advantage to you. Seek their joy for the sake of your joy. How does that sit?
The Better, Lasting Possession
The pastor is seeking his own joy. And the people are seeking the pastor’s joy for the sake of their own joy. How in the world is this not a prescription for a church full of leaders and people who are a bunch of dysfunctional, self-centered, narcissistic egotists?
The answer is this: When it says, let them do this ministry with joy not groaning, it means joy in God — joy in God, when there are plenty of reasons to groan. And the advantage that the people are seeking when they seek their pastor’s joy in God is that same joy — joy in God, in the face of many reasons to groan.
Would you like to see a picture of this joy? There is only one other place in Hebrews where the exact phrase in Greek, “with joy” (meta charas) occurs — Hebrews 10:34,
You had compassion on those in prison, and with joy you accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
So here is what the ministry of the pastor and the people looked like — and will in our day probably increasingly look like: they identified with imprisoned Christians and their houses were plundered. And instead groaning, they accepted it with joy. In what? “Because they knew they had a better and abiding possession. They had been bought by the blood of Jesus so that they would spend eternity with God in whose presence is fullness of joy, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Supernatural, Spirit-Empowered Community
Now let’s go back to Hebrews 13:17. There are three assumptions behind this verse in the mind of the writer about joy. And these three assumptions show why this teaching does not produce a bunch of dysfunctional, self-centered, narcissistic egotists.
Assumption #1: The joy that the pastor and the people are pursuing is joy in God often in the face of often huge earthly losses.
Assumption #2: To pursue joy in God — not his gifts but himself — is to admit that your heart is desperate and cannot be satisfied without him, and therefore is a humble heart, not a proud egotistical one. It is not proud to feel a cavernous emptiness inside that you know was made for God.
Assumption #3: To pursue joy in God himself as your supreme treasure and all-satisfying pleasure exalts the beauty and worth of God, not yourself. God is glorified in you when you are satisfied in him.
Pastors, seek your people’s joy. People, seek your pastors’ joy. Grow your joy in Jesus together.
Therefore, what this verse is pleading for is a kind of supernatural, Spirit-empowered community where the pastors are seeking their joy in God so that they can be an advantage to their people — that is, that their people might taste and see that the Lord is good — that he is indeed all-satisfying. That they might say with the psalmist in Psalm 43:4, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.”
And in this supernatural, Spirit-empowered community the people understand now that their soul, their life, is at stake in finding this same joy through the joyful ministry of their leaders. And so they seek to be joyfully responsive and submissive to their leaders, and to encourage them, and support them, and fan into flame, as much as they can, the Christ-exalting joy of their pastors.
God-Besotted Joy Spreads
So, yes, pastor, watch over them. That is, stay awake and be vigilant. Stay awake to the word. Stay awake to Christ. Stay awake to yourself. Stay awake to the people. And no matter how many reasons there will be to groan, keep yourself satisfied in the infinite beauty and value of God. Because otherwise, you will be of no advantage to them.
And, yes, church, be obedient and submissive to Jason and the elders. They are not God, they are not infallible, their authority is not absolute, and therefore your submission to them is not absolute. Only God gets absolute obedience and submission. But this text is written on the assumption, and you have called your pastor on the assumption that he and the leaders of this church will be lifting up their Bible and speaking the word of God, not man.
Show your leaders that you want this more than anything, by being obedient and submissive to the that word. And when you do, their joy in God will overflow and it will come back to your advantage a hundred fold.
This kind of God-besotted, joy-filled community in the presence of loss and suffering, will be explosively attractive in these western suburbs. People are hungry for this. They are dying for this and they don’t know it. They don't know they are made for joy in God, not things. Let them see it. And as God gives you grace, take it to the nations.