It was one of those challenging seasons of ministry when I walked into the main session of the Sovereign Grace pastors’ conference. The joys of pastoring seemed fewer and farther between and the burdens of responsibility beyond my strength had become daily, even hourly, moments of desperation. The battle for faith was constant and the temptation to worry started to sap my energy even before I started each day. During the first session a spontaneous word of encouragement was shared with the gathering–specifically reminding pastors of God’s care for and grace available to us. Pastors and wives facing particular difficulties were encouraged to raise their hand so that they could receive prayer from those around them. I raised my hand. Fellow pastors close to me prayed for me and one of them followed with caring questions and sympathetic comfort. In such a moment it is impossible not to be aware that at home I would have been the one responsible to comfort others, to lead the ministry, to extend care to the dear members of my church. But here I was receiving nourishing grace from my brothers and sisters–and fresh faith for ministry back home.
The Lord is certainly my Shepherd at home, sustaining, comforting, and watching over me all the time. But at that conference, in that moment, surrounded by my brothers in ministry and their wives, my Shepherd had drawn me away from my ministry and prepared a table of refreshment just for me. I was reminded that he’s not just the shepherd of my church, not just the shepherd of people in general, or churches in general, he’s specifically my shepherd, leading me to green pastures and still waters, restoring my soul. I might be an undershepherd in my service, but I’m a sheep by identity–more fundamentally cared for than responsible to care.
It seems to me this is the most important gift of the Pastors conference to pastors and their wives. A few days of intentional reminders that we are first sheep–cared for and loved by our great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus himself. We may have some opportunity to encourage our fellow pastors and their wives–specifically those who are facing specific burdens, as I was. We certainly will be equipped with messages and tools useful for our responsibilities back home. We’ll be reenvisioned for the joys of loving God’s people in our own church. But for a few days, our main responsibility will be to allow the Great Shepherd to lead us to the green pasture he has prepared for us. We’ll sing worship songs without also considering our responsibility for upcoming announcements or a message. We’ll receive words of encouragement without having to wonder how we should lead a public response. We’ll listen to messages without the responsibility to craft and deliver a closing statement to the congregation. For those of us who are married, we’ll enter, enjoy, and depart the main sessions as husband and wife, hand in hand, instead of catching a few brief moments together in the midst of ministry on Sunday mornings. We’ll be refreshed by the stories of how God is working in other churches, and we’ll be reminded that the same God is at work in our church, in our lives. We’ll drink deeply of the truths of the gospel that has saved us, without needing to turn and lead our congregation towards its refreshing streams.
The joys of ministry to God’s people are undeserved privileges for all of us. But I can’t wait for a few days, just a few months away, when my wife and I, and my dear brothers and sisters from around the world, will join together to receive fresh grace from our Lord.
At the conference, may the Lord bring each one of us to green pastures for our soul.