My Dear Shepherds,
The blizzard that blew through that March night during a big high school basketball game was ferocious. Our game was 40 miles from home and there was nothing between our two South Dakota towns but banshee winds and drift-gathering hills. Our bus driver, Maynard, thought we could make it but soon visibility turned to zero. He opened the folding entrance door and crept along, following the white roadside line for the whole trip. The 40 miles took hours. Maynard was our hero.
Sometimes ministry is like that. When we’re hired we all talk about vision and goals but then comes those blizzards where we can’t see a thing, our agenda is forgotten, and all we hope is to get safely home. Paul’s second letter to Timothy focused on staying the course. “Proclaim the word,” he told Timothy, “in good seasons and bad.” Blizzards are bad seasons.
Then, Paul’s last pastoral counsel to his protégé was this four-part assignment:
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim. 4:5)
That’s how we follow the white line.
“Always Be Sober-Minded” (ESV). Keep your wits about you. Think before you act. Guard your tongue and your temper. My worst and costliest decisions sprang from my frustration and impulsiveness. I trusted my instincts, which sounds much better than it is. Conflict and criticism sent my internal compass spinning. I’d get angry, depressed, and sleepless. Our only safeguard is to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
“Endure Hardship.” Not all beatings are measured in lashes, not all opposition comes from Judaizers, and not all shipwrecks are at sea. You may never have “despaired of life itself” as Paul did, but surely you’ve despaired. Having never been taught that suffering is as much a part of ministry as teaching, we wonder when it comes if we can bail out or find a better church. But weakness is our greatest ministry secret, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” So endure.
“Do the Work of an Evangelist.” Years ago I was aggravated when a guy told me he was praying that I’d get more involved in evangelism. He had no idea how much I was already doing! Nonetheless, I started hanging out at a donut shop in the mornings. In the next church it was at a bagel shop. (Not all evangelistic work happens at the Areopagus.) I made friends with people who knew nothing about Christ or his church and sometimes I got to talk with them about Jesus. What’s more, I was a better shepherd of the flock having searched for the lost sheep.
“Fulfill Your Ministry” (ESV). Paul had told Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you,” turning him from a timidity or cowardice to Spirit-given power, love, and self-discipline. Ministries run on empty, not when we’re weak, but when we pretend, when we turn sour, and when the Holy Spirit no longer has our attention.
Our primary ministry task is Wordwork, always tuning into Scripture for every dilemma, need, and opportunity. Also, our ministry is to embody and dispense grace in Jesus’ name to the harassed and helpless. When we are good shepherds people more easily understand Jesus.
It is frightening when we cannot see the way ahead. People are depending on us and the road is not safe. Jesus will carry us, but we must attend to our priorities: the Word, self-control, endurance, evangelism, and fulfilling our calling.
Be ye glad!