‘Homo Unius Libri’

My Dear Shepherds,

Do you remember the scene in Remember the Titans when Coach Herman Boone drills his football team to the point of exhaustion? He walks down the row as they run in place. “What is pain?!” he shouts. “French bread!” they yell back. “What is fatigue?!” “Army clothes!” “Will you ever quit?!” “No! We want some mo’! We want some mo’! We want some mo’!” Maybe somebody should’ve put us through that kind of conditioning in seminary because right now, there are a lot of pastors who definitely do not want some mo’.

Perhaps we were prepared to bravely defend the deity of Christ or the reliability of Scripture, but I don’t remember anyone ever preparing us for the sometimes exhausting, brutal, or heartbreaking work of shepherding. We had no idea.

An elder chair called me recently. Their church is without a pastor and he was at the end of his rope with fractious fellow board members. “I didn’t sign up for this,” he exclaimed. I sighed and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, you did.”

The end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy reads like one of those speeches generals give their troops before the crucial battle. “People will not put up with sound doctrine,” Paul warns. “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (Is any of this sounding familiar?)

To counter these enemies both within and beyond the church Paul emphasizes one thing throughout his letter: sound teaching, grounded in Scripture. Finally, he issues these five terse commands:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:2, NIV)

Proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. (The Message)

Here’s the problem: pressure, weariness, confusion, and sin tend to distract pastors from this primary Wordwork. Our daily duties—planning, putting out fires, meetings, reading, emails—all can be infused with Scripture, but you and I both know that they often aren’t. Sometimes the Bible becomes a plaque on the wall of our work.

During the Civil War, most soldiers were issued single-shot, muzzle-loading rifles. After the Battle of Gettysburg, at least 27,574 guns were recovered from the battlefield, their owners having fled or died. Incredibly, 24,000 were still loaded! And half of those had been loaded more than once, one shot jammed on top of another, without being fired! One poor guy had apparently loaded his gun twenty-three times without ever actually shooting! Evidently fear or the chaos of battle deafened or confused them. I suspect that happens to pastors, too. When Scripture is needed most we forget to pull the trigger.

Paul approached ministry as a soldier. He told Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” The weapon issued to us is Scripture, “God-breathed and useful … so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). That’s why I call pastors Wordworkers.

Dear shepherd, perhaps the work has become soul-deadening. Perhaps you’re disoriented. Perhaps you don’t know what to say or which way to turn. John Wesley, a pastor, too, wrote, “O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].”

Be ye glad!

Pastor Lee

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