I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday. It was a Monday lunchtime in the early weeks of 1975. A handful of us had braved the opportunity to eat at the faculty table, and the conversation was lively. But I was completely unprepared for one of the lecturers to send in my direction what was virtually a “prophetic” word.
Three years before, when the adventure of theological study began, at least one thing was clear to me: becoming a pastor was not on the cards.
During that lunch, I had volunteered the fact that, having just spent the weekend speaking and playing music at a youth retreat, I had left feeling unsatisfied. The hard part was not in meeting new people nor in sharing the Bible with them but in leaving them behind at the end of the time with no prospect of seeing them again. “That,” I said, “is the part I do not enjoy.”
Reverend Balchin directed his gaze towards me and said that he could explain why it was that I felt as I did: “Because,” he said, “the Lord has given you a pastor’s heart.” Referencing Paul’s words to the Ephesians, he elaborated: there are some who are evangelists, able to preach and move on, and there are others who are shepherds and teachers who must settle down to tend the flock.
Later, alone in my room, I began to wrestle with this very notion. I remembered the laughter of a more senior student when, once before, my name must have been mentioned in regard to this: “You, Begg, a pastor? Now that’s funny!” Paddy, I thought, is probably right—but no need to worry, because there are no openings for a 23-year-old who can pass easily for 15. If this is going to happen, it will be against the run of play…
Perhaps in another letter I’ll continue the story and tell how Derek J. Prime took a big risk in taking me under his wing but for now, I leave it here to encourage you to inquire of your pastor how he was called into pastoral ministry. It is, after all, October, which is the designated month of the year when we let our pastors know how much we appreciate them: “Esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:13).
My friend Christopher Ash has written a wonderfully helpful book on this topic. The title is intriguing: The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (But Is Too Embarrassed to Ask). He outlines seven practical and important ways for us to help our pastors serve their congregations by serving God’s Word faithfully.
One of the hardest parts of “the work” is in keeping watch over the souls of husbands and wives who are struggling to live truly and happily in submission to their marriage vows. One of my colleagues, Jonathan Holmes, has written Counsel For Couples, a really insightful, biblical, and practical book to help those of us in pastoral ministry provide counsel in such circumstances. Here, then, is a book for you and another for your pastor. I heartily recommend both.
Spurgeon encouraged his people to pray for him in the awareness that the same sermons buoyed and carried along by prayer would be all the more effectual. And if you ever wonder what your pastor prays as he comes to preach, it will be along these lines:
Almighty God, who endued the apostles with singular gifts of the Holy Spirit so that they proclaimed Your Word with power, grant to me, as I prepare to minister and teach in Your Holy Name, the same spirit of wisdom and love and power, that the truth You gave me to declare may search the conscience, convince the mind, and win the heart of those who hear it, and the glory of Your kingdom be advanced through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thank you always for all your encouragement in so many ways. Stay steady.
For all of us with my love in the Lord Jesus,N