My Dear Shepherds,
When I was a full-time pastor, I often cut my grass on Sunday afternoons. It was the only time in a whole week when I got the satisfaction of seeing the results of my work. You know what I mean.
A young pastor interviewed me recently for his podcast. He asked me to share a story of ministry success. I was stumped because, as I told him, ministry success often comes so slowly that you can’t see it. Paul might have been answering that question the last time he wrote to Timothy.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Ministry success is measured in righteousness. We, of course, add nothing whatsoever to the righteousness of Christ imputed to us in the gospel. But once redeemed, our own righteous thoughts and deeds do matter and are rewarded by “the Lord, the righteous Judge.” “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matt. 16:27).
That hard ground of tough ministerial work that Paul described—fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith—is the seedbed of the righteousness God grows in us. Remember Jesus’ kingdom parable about the man who scattered seed? “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain” (Mark 4:27-28). Our righteousness grows as we persevere in pastoring.
The only way we can endure and keep our perspective is to “long for his appearing.” Pastors, you cannot just look at what is happening around you now. Work today for that day when you will finally be able to see your work.
Peter wrote to faithful elders, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” At the end of my book, Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls, I write,
Peter’s promise of the Chief Shepherd’s return assures us that pastors will not be forgotten in some lonely pasture. One day the bleating of sheep will be drowned out in the trumpet call of God. One day we will leave our last committee meeting to find ourselves in the company of angels. One day we will make our last hospital call or officiate at our last funeral and be ushered into that Kingdom where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. One day we will put aside our monthly reports and Sunday bulletins to take up the anthems of glory. One day we will preach our last sermons and lay aside our beloved Bibles to find ourselves awestruck in the presence of Him whose very name is the Word of God. One day we will set aside the cups and bread for the last time in order to take our places at the wedding supper of the Lamb. And when that day comes we will lay down our staffs and take our rest, for the sheep we have fed and led and guarded will be safe at last in the fold of Jesus, and we will hear, “Well done!” from the Chief Shepherd whose lambs we have loved.
Be ye glad!