Deep in my basement, beneath totes of baby clothes, old 4-H projects, and spare light bulbs is a box of college books. Among the books is an old canvas Bible cover stuffed with a collection of church bulletins that are covered with notes I took.
In these bulletins, I’ve squeezed hastily-scribbled questions alongside bulleted lists. I’ve underlined, starred, and highlighted years’ worth of notes. Every sheet tells a story.
As I read through this secret stash, I can hear the voice of my old pastor as if he was speaking them. I hear his inflection, I hear his force, and I hear his care. His name was Don Whipple, and I had the privilege of sitting under his teaching for four years. Every Sunday, I’d arrive at church, grab a seat next to a friend, and pull out my pen and bulletin, ready to listen to what he had prepared.
I wonder now how many hours he put into those sermons. I wonder how much prayer, how much study. I wonder how many emotions he laid bare to serve his humble flock each week. His sermons never made it on television. They never went viral, and they never headlined a radio show. Instead, his faithful Sundays of preaching came and went, their only remains documented in old audio files and my mess of bulletin scribbles.
THE GIFT OF THE PREACHER
If you’ve grown up in the American church, the role of the pastor might seem like a routine part of church life. It’s easy to forget that pastors are a gift from our loving Father.
God, in his holiness, not only chose to relate to his creation, but he chose people from within us to minister to us.
This is incredible.
In Biblical history, we see how God began this when he chose priests from among the Israelites to minister to the people on his behalf (Ex. 28:1-2). We no longer have priests who offer sacrifices for us, because we can now approach the throne, justified through Christ as our mediator (Heb. 4:16). But as we wait for the coming kingdom, one of the ways God has chosen to work out our sanctification is through ministers of his Word (Acts 20:28).
This is your pastor, my pastor, and all the preachers in the local body who preach Christ’s saving gospel around the world.
God imparts grace to us today in the humble service of the pastorate—weak vessels that show his mighty strength and his tender care for his people (2 Cor. 4:7-9). Because of this, we must also keep in mind that they too struggle with sin.
SHEPHERDS ARE SHEEP, TOO
The Puritan writer Thomas Manton once wrote that “ministers should not only be of science, but of experience.” This experience is their sinful nature, their daily battle with the flesh which is won only by their own dependence on the gospel.
While we might like to believe our pastors are infallible, this truth can actually be an encouragement each week as we sit under their preaching. We can receive their admonishment, their correction, and their teaching knowing they are preaching and speaking the same truths of the gospel to themselves each week. We can rejoice that God was so kind to give us teaching from people who understand our struggles and who know what it is to suffer in sin.
This truth should also push us into fervent prayer for the ministers God has given. We can pray for them to be filled with wisdom given by God (Jas. 1:5). We can pray that the Lord will be their dwelling place (Psalm 90:1), that their strength would be found in Christ (Ps. 84:5) when they are weary, and that they would clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and peace (Col. 3:12) from Christ alone.
The elders and pastors God has graced us with are not our superheroes nor our personal servants. Instead they serve our King and seek to shepherd us by gently prodding us to keep our gaze fixed on Christ as they seek to do the very same.
THE GIFT OF THE PREACHED WORD
While we can see that God has chosen to work through pastors preaching his word, we must also remember that he is the one working. It is so easy to come to a sermon looking for what we can take away. What will we learn this week?
We can gravitate towards well-known pastors who seem to make this easier. We might think their application points were better, or their illustrations really made the whole sermon hit home.
While it is a gift to learn from others, we can often come before our own pastor disappointed if they don’t measure up to the standards we’ve created. We wonder why they haven’t given us the application we wanted, or stirred us enough emotionally for the week ahead. But this line of thinking has overlooked that since the beginning of time, God has been speaking. And in this speaking, God does the work—not humans—even though God chooses to speak through us.
God spoke, creation formed. God called, Abraham followed. God rescued, the Israelites turned. Christ redeemed, and we were made new. And as the new church was formed in Acts, Christ’s word went out and the people heard (Acts 2:37). When we listen to a sermon, we can’t gauge the benefit of it solely on our own takeaways or feelings. The Spirit works through the preaching of his Word—and he is the one who will change us—whether we have great illustrations or not.
Every Sunday, whether it’s a small country church or a building of several thousand, when we sit under the ordinary preaching of a pastor rooted in the word, we hear God. We receive what the Spirit has given us for that day, and whether we realize it or not, he works through it. In the midst of what may seem mundane, when your pastor seems off his game or when you’re wishing he would say something different, the word he brings is the grace of God given by your Savior that feeds, sustains, and grows you.
Those words my pastor faithfully preached year after year have gone far beyond the scribbles written on each Sunday bulletin. I look back through the years of care from all of my pastors and I see the faithfulness of God in his patient work in my life. Their words were used to form me. Not because they were theological giants or the greatest of orators, but because each week they faithfully brought the word of God to their flock.
Throughout the years God has faithfully used the words of my ordinary pastors to season my conversations, help guide my decisions, and to bolster my understanding of the glory of God.
Next Sunday, whether you realize it or not, your pastor comes to the pulpit with a feast for your soul. He may not headline conferences or write books, but he is the shepherd God has given to feed you exactly what you need. May we receive this gift with renewed joy and gratitude.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She is a staff writer with GCD and has contributed to various online publications, such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.