I recently had my car in for an oil change and general check up. As a vehicle gets older more and more mechanical things can begin to go wrong with it. It can get quite expensive–especially if you ignore fixing them and have to do several repairs at a time. Most places that change your oil will claim at least a 24 point check list they go through just for your convenience, of course. They always seem to find things that need fixing, don’t they–for their convenience?? The check up though is good and necessary.
The same can be said of a pastor. A good overall check up is necessary for the effective loving shepherd if he is going to continue ministering with grace and truth. Ministry can be rough and cause damage to the key areas of life. If it is ignored, it can get quite expensive to the whole church. I’m not sure we should make a 24 check point list, but there are a number of key things each pastor should be sure to check. What are some of these key areas to watch for? If you are a pastor, maybe you need to begin a list. If you are not a pastor, maybe you can be a help to your pastor by sitting down with him and encourage him by talking about some of these check points.
1. A personal growth in love for Christ. There are many things that pull and tug at the heart of a shepherd. Every honest pastor at some point feels that God has chosen the wrong man for the job. He knows all too well many of his own personal weaknesses and often feels like Moses who told God “I am not eloquent and slow of speech and tongue…” Ex 4:10. It is vital then that a shepherd set aside his feelings and reorient himself around the love of God as seen through Christ. There is nothing sweeter to the soul and nothing more nourishing. A pastor must find in Christ his greatest treasure and grow in his personal love and amazement for Christ.
2. A personal discipline to think what is true. Sin is deceitful and thrives on that which is false. Sin delights in partial truths–even though that is clearly an oxymoron. A shepherd has to be discerning–constantly. Approving things that are excellent (Phil 1:10) is a constant rearranging priorities and seeing through the facades of life that can come as a fog into the atmosphere of ministry. Seeing through the deceptions and getting to the root of the issue takes careful personal discipline to think what is true in every area of life and ministry. Paul understood this and told the Philippian Christians to think whatever is true (Phil 4:10). Personal discipline is a must here. Check yourself.
3. A personal accountability and transparency. Younger pastors get this. Many older generation pastors don’t. This is unfortunate and probably is a small commentary of culture and climate of both generations. Culture aside, it is Scriptural. 1Thessalonians 1:5 Paul points specifically to this kind of transparency when he says, “…You know what kind of men we proved to be among you..” Powerful. The truth is, people do know what kind of man their pastor is. The question then is, “Will the pastor be open and honest with his weaknesses, fears, frailties, and doubts and set up friendships of accountability that will encourage, rebuke, grow him in grace and in knowledge of Christ? Humility and satisfaction in the perfections of Christ give us our freedom to be transparent and accountable.
4. A personal passion to love. The two great commands stem from the Ten Commandments–love God and love others. Together they highlight a truth: Because God is love we too should love. We often emphasize who we are to love and fail to notice that because God is love it should be our character to love as well. When constantly working with people in their most difficult times–when in sin, real life hurts, disagreements, or in tragedies a pastor can soon become protective of his own soul by seeking to distance himself from people. Cynicism, self protection or blindness to people and their needs often plague the heart and like a corrosive numbness, over time, genuine love grows cold in the shepherd’s heart. This is a danger for a shepherd that will soon diminish his love for people and ultimately his love for and dependence upon God Himself. Check yourself. Guard your heart.
5. A personal priority of family. No other job position has as a requirement for the position healthy family relationships. No other relationships are as difficult, tedious, overpowering, and vulnerable as family relationships. A shepherd must keep as a priority his family. Our theology is best displayed in our families. A shepherd must not merely go home from work, but he must go home to work. He cannot actually be strong in the pulpit when his family has no regard or respect for him at home. A shepherd cannot be blind here. Time is the great tattle-tale. Time has a way of uncovering what really is lived at home. Most young pastors don’t think enough of the Gospel to put it to work in the early years of parenting. It smacks them in the gut years later.
6. A personal display of confessing and forsaking. At any given time, who is the biggest sinner in the room? The Gospel frees us to think as Paul when he says in 1Timothy 1:15, “…Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” His open confession of this is reassuring, isn’t it? If who Christ is and what Christ has done is really true, then why can’t the shepherd be the model of confessing sin and forsaking sin? The kindness of the grace of Christ allows us this privilege. The sheep don’t need to see someone who looks and acts like a super-christian hero–they need a glimpse of Christ who knows what to do with sin.
Time for a check up? If you are a pastor, go through the drill, but don’t wallow in your feelings. Instead find great hope in the blessed mercy and grace in Christ alone. If you are not a pastor, but have one, pray for him. Encourage him and his family. Then look to your own life and seek God’s power and presence to be the kind of sheep a shepherd finds great joy in shepherding. They watch for your souls, you know.