The Most Significant Thing a Pastor Will Ever Do
The title is a come-on, to give me the chance to say one huge thing to every pastor: You have no idea what ranks as the most important part of your work.
You think you do. You think it’s speaking to the Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday night. Or helping plan a community Thanksgiving service. Or guest-teaching a class at the seminary. And it may be.
You think it’s that great sermon you preached a couple of weeks back, the glow from which is still warming your memory. The one which brought several new families to join your church. Or, maybe that mission trip to Tanzania last year. Or the revival last month.
Could be. Or not.
The most valuable ministry thing you have done just may be the time you stopped to encourage a homeless man and bought him lunch. Or that time you gave a new family a tour of the church. Or even the prayer you prayed for a missionary family in northern Italy this morning.
You never know.
As the shepherd of the Lord’s flock, you do a thousand things, some requiring great training and consuming huge blocks of your time, and some so tiny and almost trivial you don’t even remember the next day that you did them.
God sees. He knows. And He alone is your Master, Administrator, and Judge. He has His own value system. And His ways are not yours, His thoughts much higher (that would be Isaiah 55).
To Him you answer. Not to a board, not to a committee, and not even to yourself.
Today, it may be a phone conversation with a church member. Tomorrow, it might be the prayer you offer at the public gathering. And the next day, a spontaneous conversation with a stranger in the mall parking lot.
God knows. You do not.
It is absolutely essential that we in the ministry stop judging what we did as to “what worked” and “what was wood, hay, and stubble.” We have no idea what God has just done with the little thing we offered.
We do it and go on.
“We see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13).
This article can end here. And maybe it should. So, for those who are rushed, thank you for your attention. Have a great day.
But for the rest of us…
I’m remembering a few moments from my long ministry, any one of which could have been platinum to the Lord in Heaven…or nothing very much. It all depends on what He needed and what He chose to do with me that day. It depends on His will, His evaluation, and a thousand things I’m not aware of. And I’m good with that. He is Lord, and all glory, praise and honor be to Him.
Mostly, we will never see what He did, never know which was “gold, silver, and precious stones,” or otherwise (I Corinthians 13).
One. I sat in a four-hour deacons meeting in which I was the subject, the defendant, the issue, with the motion on the table being to dismiss me. The rants and raves were pro and con, fierce and wonderful, strangely wrong-headed and divinely Christlike. Meanwhile, I sat there in silence. During that time, I felt the peace of God like never before or since. It was amazing. But I wouldn’t do it again for anything!
So, what did God do with my four hours of silence? I have no idea. (I know how He ended my ministry there and some of what He did afterwards. But have no idea what if anything He did with those four hours of sweet silence. It’s very possible that when it’s all over, the Lord may say that “this was your finest hour.”)
Two. I was a passenger in the funeral car that broadsided a pickup truck running a stop sign. My head broke the dashboard and I bled profusely. For that, I was given a nice ride to the hospital in an ambulance. The medics fixed me up and I did a wedding the next day wearing a white bandage between my eyebrows. It made for some great photos! Many years later when I was doing a deacon retreat for a church in that city, the chairman told his group something I’d never known. He had been the insurance agent for the driver of that pickup truck, the one responsible for this scar between my brows. He said, “A few days later, Pastor Joe called me and said, ‘Do you think the insurance company would replace my glasses?” They had been broken in the accident. He said, “Now, this pastor could have sued us for a lot of money, but here he was simply asking us to replace his glasses. And that impressed me.” As a result, he said, he started going to church.
I had not known this.
So, was this one of those golden moments by which Heaven rates me as faithful? The agent treated it as such. But it was so trivial and fleeting that I had not remembered any of it–well, except the accident. I still carry the small scar.
Twice in the 12 months since I moved back to Mississippi, men have approached and introduced themselves and told me something I did over 30 years ago. In each case, it was to counsel a young pregnant woman not to have an abortion. Each man said, “I was the father.” One said, “That child was born handicapped and lived only 11 years. But she was the delight of our lives.” The other said, “The baby is now (30-something) years old, and the joy of our hearts.” Each said, “I’ve wanted to meet you to say thanks.”
In each case, I said, “You know that I have no memory of this, don’t you?” But you may believe I was thrilled to hear this.
Most of us never get to do that, to know what a few minutes in the counseling office did for a family. God was so kind to let me see that.
Do not judge yourself; just be faithful.
Every pastor has preached the little incident in John 21 where Peter asks the Lord, “What about John? What’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow me.”
The Lord will be grading the papers at the end of the day. Grades will be posted. But for the moment, we are still in the thick of things. It’s time to run back into the huddle and get ready for the next play.
Speaking of which…
On the football field, no running back stops at the end of a play and jerks out a scorebook to tote up the yards he has gained. He drops the ball and rejoins his teammates for the next play. High above the field, in the top tier of seats someone is keeping account of every yard gained, every attempt made, every pass completed, every fumble and interception. The task of each person on the field is to be faithful and play the game for which he was recruited and trained.
“To me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even judge myself. But whether I’m conscious of any charge against me or not, it doesn’t matter. The One who judges me is the Lord.” (I Corinthians 4:3-4, paraphrase)