A Pastor’s Reflections: Ministry and Authority
I can remember that when I was first contemplating entering into the pastorate, I thought that I might be interested in pursuing youth ministry. I can’t tell you why, precisely, this was my first thought. I know that I had a number of excellent youth workers over the years make a significant impact upon my life, so perhaps their influence was factor. But as I’ve now been in the ministry for almost sixteen years, I’ve been surprised by the number of times that I encounter young men who have the same interest but subsequently they end up going into the pastorate. I have thought about this anecdotal trend and have wondered why youth ministry is a gateway, so to speak, into the pastorate.
Let me state up front that if you sense a call to youth ministry, then pursue it with a passion and zeal. God knows that we need dedicated pastors to serve, educate, and preach the gospel to the covenant youth in our churches. But on the other hand, as I have thought about my own transition and witnessed others take a similar path, I think that I’ve discovered one of the reasons why young men change their minds.
For myself, I think when I first gave thought to preaching, I had a hard time envisioning myself standing before a congregation and heralding the gospel. Within a congregation you typically have young people, but also their parents, who are often quite accomplished, as well as many others who are older, wiser, and more experienced in life. I think I naturally drifted towards the idea of youth work because it didn’t seem as daunting to interact with people who were close to being my peers. In other words, there wasn’t a cultural or life-experience gap. And in most cases, the youth to whom I may minister would likely be less experienced, wise, and knowledgeable than me. So naturally, I wouldn’t have a degree of perceived inferiority as I stood before them. I know that some would never look at youth ministry like this and would instead be filled with terror because so many of today’s youth are on the cutting edge of “cool” and as an out-of-step doofus adult, you might come across as really lame—like a mother trying to dress like her daughter, something that only elicits sighs, protestations, eye rolls, and the daughter walking at great distance from her mother. I wasn’t concerned with that dynamic.
The more I began to study in seminary and immerse myself in the word, I became convinced of two important facts. First, after studying the call of the prophets, I became convinced that I needed to be willing to serve wherever God called me and herald the gospel to whomever he placed before me. Could we ever imagine Isaiah responding with silence or conditions to Yahweh’s call, “Whom shall I send, who will go for us” (Isa. 6:8)? Can we imagine the prophet saying, “Umm . . . yeah . . . to whom shall I preach? Them? Uh, I’d rather preach to someone else.” Obviously, such things are absurd. Given this point, I settled in my mind to be open to go wherever God would call. Second, I realized that God’s message never rests in the authority and power of the messenger but solely in him. Yes, his messengers require a degree of sanctity, gifts, and calling (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:1-7), but the authority of the message rests upon the triune God. Think of the disciples—they were simple fishermen and yet they were called to be heralds of Christ’s gospel. If the message rested solely in their cultural and social standing, then the gospel would have likely failed. The cultural and intellectual elite of Israel would have looked down their long noses and sneered at the red-necked fishermen. Many first century Jews did in fact respond in this manner, but many did not. Many received the message but not because of the personal stature of the messenger but because of the authority and power that originated with the triune God, specifically the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit.
I was convicted that my initial thoughts about ministry were misguided. I was willing to minister to youth, not because I discerned a specific calling but because I was comfortable with the idea. I could confidently stand before someone who I thought I was above or socially superior. I realized that such confidence was misplaced and even sinful. It was a formula for disaster. I repented of the attitude and concluded that I would preach to whomever God called me to preach, and rather than rely upon my own social standing, I would instead rely upon the power of the Word and Spirit to make my preaching effective.
While this theological point is crucial for ministers, it’s also vital for anyone who desires to share the gospel. Never be fearful of the people you encounter. Never worry about your social standing or cultural inferiority, but instead rely upon the power and authority of God’s Word applied by the Holy Spirit to make your witnessing or preaching effective. In a word, rely upon Christ and not yourself.