In Part 1 I suggested an important of the glory of our Trinitarian God is the humility he displays withing the Godhead itself. He puts that humility on display in the church, where members of the Trinitarian community interact with each other in joyful submission.
I would like to press into this idea further by considering what this means specifically for pastors. God’s Trinitarian imprint on the church means the pastor’s ministry must be marked by radical servanthood. The role of “overseer” must be exercised on our knees; not sitting “on high” over the sheep but with them in the sheep pen.
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pt 5.1-4).
In the healthy church there is joyful submission of the members to one another and the elders (Heb 13.17). That is, after all, part of what it means to be Trinitarian. But pastors do not foster that submission by preaching Hebrews 13.17 at the congregation. We earn their submission by hitting our knees in service to them. Pastors may have an important title, but they consider their members more important.
We can easily serve our idea of the perfect church, feed the institutional structure of the church, without feeding the sheep in soul care (believe you me!). We can protect our model of the perfect church at the expense of seeing people perfected in Christ.
One of my pastoral heroes once said we do not shepherd a number. We shepherd sheep. It is tempting to shepherd a number. We want to have as many people or more next year than last. There could be 100% turnover in individual members but as long as we maintain the number we feel “successful.” God will not hold us accountable to a number. He will hold us accountable to caring for the sheep in our charge.
While we paint our big pictures, craft constitutions and covenants, and organize polities, let us remember our first order of business is to care for souls. It is rarely sexy and no one writes articles about it, but it is shepherding like Jesus.
We talk about God’s kingdom in broad, sweeping, redemptive-historical terms (nations, global, peoples, etc.). But Jesus clearly modeled and taught that God’ populates his glorious, global kingdom with this blind beggar and that redeemed prostitute. Jesus doesn’t call categories to himself. He calls names (Jn 10.3).
Therefore, slowing down on instituting church discipline for the sake of not trampling over souls is far more honoring to our Triune God than “breaking bruised reeds” and “extinguishing burning wicks” (Is 42.3). There is a wrong way to be right.
Caring for the lonely widow in Christ will bear more kingdom fruit than designing tri-colored billboards with smiley Gap models. Who’s family really looks like that anyway?
Jesus did far more caring for souls along the way than cleansing the temple with whips. There is to be a patient, humble, joyful submission in our ministries that reflects the very nature of what it means for God to be Trinity.
We will not perfect the church. No matter how tight our constitutional language and holy our covenants, our churches will remain a ragtag, motley gathering of sinner-saints who should not exist together (much less serve one another) except for the sovereign grace of God. We do them no service by sprinting out so far ahead that we leave them to wolves.
Jesus will perfect the church and present her spotless and blameless on the last day (Eph 4.27). Our job as pastors is not to assume that work to ourselves. We are sojourners ourselves. Exiles. Strangers. Aliens. We are simply trying, by God’s means of grace, to keep our little band of exiles faithful until the King returns.
Ours is to foster a community where the self-righteous are uncomfortable and the repentant sinner feels right at home.
Ours is to fill up the water jug, grab the towel and meet souls with the grace of God. Or better yet, we serve the cup and bread saying, “Here is God’s grace to you, brother and sister. Remain faithful to him. Keep hoping. We will be home soon.”
I submit it is this joyful, humble submission that comes down to us from our Trinitarian God for the glory of our Trinitarian God. And it is into this glorious relationship we have been welcomed as Jesus prayed we be one as he and the Father are (Jn 17.22). There is only one way for us to be one as God is one: by living in joyful, humble submission to our people, like God does in himself. Aspiring to the pastoral office is to aspire to endure all things in joyful submission for the salvation of the elect (2 Tim 2.8-10). Just like our Triune God did.