I told him he has just one job. And because it’s one all Presbyterian pastors have, I’m using this column to tell you (much of) what I said to Paul:
We will ask impossible things of you. We’ll forget you are God’s servant, not ours. But knowing this, what must you do? You must remember that essentially you have only two jobs here.
First, you are to help people meet — and then follow — Jesus Christ. Second, well, there is no second. The first job is big enough if you and we understand that the church doesn’t have a mission; rather, as James Emery White says, a mission has the church.
This job means you must preach the gospel of grace. Then you must help people respond to the demands of that grace. So they need to understand that you’re not preaching what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Oh, the grace is free. But it is costly because of what it requires of us as we live lives of gratitude. Don’t let us forget that.
Your preaching will require several voices. First, your prophetic voice to help us see what is breaking God’s heart and how we can work to fix that. Next, your pastoral voice to help us find our way toward healing. And then your educational voice to help us understand what the Bible is saying to us.
As you help us understand the Bible, encourage us to ask hard questions about faith and help us be mature enough not to settle for simplistic answers.
You know that the opposite of faith is not doubt. Rather, the opposite of faith is false certitude. Help us avoid that, even as we commit our very lives to Christ.
Continue to help us see that the world we encounter both inside and outside our church doors today is remarkably different from the world our members encountered just 30-plus years ago when I joined. We live now in what is called a post-modern age, which means that no longer is there widespread societal agreement on life’s major narratives.
So just as you must listen to our individual stories, needs, hopes and dreams, we must listen to the stories, needs, hopes and dreams of the people to whom we minister. We cannot just assume we know what’s best for them. Remind us of that.
Your temptation will be to try a million different ideas to see what works. But as we do that together, remember that your main job is to keep us tethered to the gospel.
After all, if we build up church membership to 2,000 but lose Christ, we lose everything. If our financial pledges exceed our most ambitious budgets but we lose Christ, we lose everything.
If we have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and knowledge and have all faith so that we can move mountains but we lose Christ, we are nothing.
Two more things: Paul, love your family before you try to love us. Your family will be your anchor. If that center cannot hold, you will fail at ministry here. And love us, too. In fact, open yourself to us so we may love you back. That way, as your friend Nora Tisdale has written, the radical word of God’s grace that you preach may offend us together.
Together, tethered to the gospel, we can move into a dazzling future, drawn there by a loving God who wants the best for us.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his new book. E-mail him at [email protected].