Streptococcus pastoralitus is a common but often misdiagnosed bacterial infection of diabolical origins which effects pastors and can oftentimes be seen as “exceptionally driven,” “very gifted,” and “able to leap tall pulpits in a single bound.” The bacteria, however, is quite serious. It embeds itself into the spiritual blood stream of conceited clerics whose pores have been stretched by pride and self importance to the dangerous size that the streptococcus pastoralitus bacteria virtually marches into the unknowing clergyman in army-like columns. The effect? Well, it is imperceptible at first to the untrained and undiscerning observer. The pastor talks much about “his new vision” for the church, and “his burning desire for this vision” with fresh euphoria. The effect is convincing to say the least; “hypnotic” has even been offered by some observers as an apt consequential effect of this disease on others. People support his diseased vision. Members of other congregations may leave their church to join his because of the contagious effect of the disease. Now. The difficult thing is that things really do happen with the infected carrier. Buildings are built. New staff are employed. The self-importance of the minister, already over inflated which allowed the bacteria in, can finally take over every area of his life. If not treated, the bacteria will produce a megalomaniac minister who may become a legend in his own mind. Often, if the disease is contained and doesn’t spiral into adultery, financial mismanagement, career mismanagement, or criminal activity, the host to Streptococcus pastoralitus may go down in in history as a man of great vision. But on the day of judgment his works will burn as mere works of the flesh.
I recognize this bacteria and its symptoms because I have been infected. Perhaps you have as well. It is all too common in North America.
I believe Paul was aware of this as he precluded any thought of pastoral pride by opening his heart to the Thessalonians to expose his pulsating heart of a Christ-consumed love for the saints.
In this passage the Lord has revealed for us a treatment for Streptococcus pastoralitus—pastoral pride— in order to establish a biblical pastoral vision. And if you believe you are not infected then perhaps you can receive this as preventative care which is no charge no deductable needing to be met!
What is the treatment or preventative treatment here to insure that our vision is Biblical?
In order to establish a biblical pastoral vision we must be prophetic in our preaching.
Now when I say prophetic I’m speaking of prophetic in the sense that Peter wrote of prophecy when he spoke of Scripture being a prophecy that is made more sure. I’m speaking of prophecy in the sense of Hebrews chapter 1, verse one where we understand that in times past God spoke to the prophets but now he has spoken once and for all times through his son. I am speaking of the inerrant, infallible word of God. I am speaking of what Paul was writing up when he addressed the Thessalonians in chapter 2 and versus three and four:
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or in a attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”
The prophetic preacher is one who understands that he is entrusted with God’s truth in order to extend God’s grace. Is under the authority of a session or a diocese or an association or board of deacons or a Council of Elders but he also recognizes that he is at a sacred encounter with the living Christ. And he has been called and separated out to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. The biblical vision stays a biblical vision when the pastor is grounded in prophetic preaching – preaching that is fearless and is grounded on a word from another world.
The greatest danger, you see, is that the vision becomes untethered from the word. This is what happened of Moses. When Moses saw the Egyptian taskmaster beating the poor Hebrew, having recognized his birth identity as a Hebrew, he had a vision to stop the injustice. His vision led him to a mission. His mission led him to a philosophy of justice: killed the Egyptian. He not only killed them but buried him in the sand. It didn’t win him any friends in the court of the Pharaoh, just as our vision never wins any friends in the world, but his vision didn’t win any friends with the Hebrews either. When our vision becomes untethered from the word of God it may sound sensational in the beginning but in the end it puts us in the back forty of the Midian desert working for a pagan name Jethro. Whatever we do we must make sure that our preaching stays tethered to the word of God. It is for this reason that I urge expository biblical preaching through books of the Bible. It prevents hobbyhorses. It prevents malignancies on the soul of the pastor which block blood flow to the brain and cause him to blurt out things like, “I’ve had a vision for a new family life Center,” as his elders sit looking bewildered having never heard of such a thing.
Here’s the other thing: you were called to preach the word by God. Paul says that he was entrusted by the Lord with the word. You were also. You will never find more vocational satisfaction and when you study, exegete, expositor, and apply, the very word of God. There is nothing like it in the world. And when you do people will recognize, “surely, this word is not.” And they will see.
The second part of the treatment plan according to this passage is this:
In order to establish a biblical pastoral vision we must be personal in our preaching.
This epistle is written to a general audience and yet it contains a most personal form to it. That could be because of the nature of the questions which were coming out of Thessalonica. There were questions about death than families and questions about whether there was divine approbation over the lives of those families because of death. It was great misunderstanding about several aspects — key doctrines — of the Christian faith that relate to us personally. So Paul’s letter is most personal. But if you look at Paul’s theology, one must say that Paul does not separate theology from the person. For St. Paul all theology is personal, for himself, but even more so for those he is ministering to. The classic words that come out of this passage is a deep, personal word to the church at great city of the Thessalonians:
“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for short time, in person not in a bar, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face-to-face, because we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you or our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 20 ESV).
We must guard against the vision that is detached from the people who were in front of us — the people whom we have been given sacred charge over as keepers of their soul under Christ. Remembering that we should give account for their souls should be a sobering reminder that should craft the way we cast vision out of the word of God in a very personal way. It is not just that we have a vision for the world, is that we have a vision for people.
As I began my medical sabbatical I wrote a farewell letter to our students. In that letter I reminded them that our heroes in the face must not be Luther or Calvin or Spurgeon must be the 12-year-old girl who got braces and who is feeling embarrassed yet striving to live the Christian life. That seems small to you but it is big to her. Let her courage inspire you. The story of faith is being lived out by giant Christian heroes like 19-year-old boys in their freshman year at college standing up for the faith in the midst of great temptation. The real heroes, I told him, or the ordinary people in the pews before you. They are the people like the empty nest couple now use their time, previously given to child rearing, now to helping inner-city children who have no parents. The real heroes of the faith are like the man I ministered to one Sunday. I made a habit of looking over my congregation before preached. I would say many that I had spent time with in their homes or in hospitals or somewhere in the community. Sometimes they were in my office and counseling. Sometimes, as in this particular case, they were at a funeral. I looked into the eyes of an 85-year-old man whose wife I had buried that week. I could see in his eyes the conflict — “do I go on? Or do I stay and keep fighting the fight of faith?” It was my vision to minister the Word to him and that little girl in the teenage boy and that middle-age couple that day. And when theology becomes personal, the Bible becomes real, and your preaching becomes electric. And people, once again, begin to see. And “seeing” is what vision is all about.
As I studied this passage I came to a third treatment against a pastoral disease that would distort pastoral vision in preaching. It is this:
In order to establish a biblical pastoral vision we must be pastoral in our preaching.
Now this sounds very similar to being personal in our preaching. Yet being personal in our preaching refers to the object of our preaching — the congregation. Being pastoral in our preaching refers to ourselves. Paul demonstrated his pastoral heart to the Thessalonians and through the power of the Holy Spirit across the centuries to us today. I love the way he asked that rhetorical question. It really hits of what we’re dealing with today in the matter of biblical vision and separating that from a fleshly vision. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not even you? For you or glory and joy.” Paul’s question was rhetorical. He wanted them to know the answer was absolutely, unequivocally pastoral. His heart was for his people.
We often think of this great man as the greatest missionary of all time or the most prolific apostle or perhaps the most brilliant man who ever lived. All those or appropriate ways of thinking of Paul. Yet we should also think of Paul as one of the great pastors in the history of the church. Each book of the Bible overflows with the love and grace and compassion of Jesus Christ towards others. All at one point will say that he gives his all for the sake of the elect. He recalls that he is being poured out like a drink offering for the church. And here he wants them to know that his joy and his hope in his crown of boasting is going to be “souls safe in the arms of Jesus.”
And you know what? That really is your hope and your glory and your joy, isn’t it? Your vision for ministry is not tied to any other measure of success than seeing your people safe in the arms of Jesus Christ when he comes again. You cannot boast or be joyful about any buildings that you leave behind or any programs that you have established or any titles or degrees are institutions that you have found it. Those are all instruments — means to an end. The glorious goal of all of our resources and tools is to see souls saved in the arms of Jesus — not only those who sit before us each Sunday that their children and their children’s children and generations that we will never see until that day when Christ comes again. When we begin to preach like that and we believe in that, our hearts begin beating with the heartbeat of St. Paul’s and this sort of pastoral rhythm that will recognize that this is a vision from out of this world. They will know that this is a vision from God flowing through the conduit of a pastor’s heart to their lives and to the eternal arms of Jesus.
There is a fourth and most important, climactic, treatment to guard against Streptococcus pastoralitus:
In order to establish a pastoral vision we must be panoramic in our preaching.
Now this is what I mean when I say panoramic: I mean that our preaching must be too teleologically transcendent. When you hang around seminary professors long enough you begin to talk in a strange language. If we were to break that down we would see that preaching in a teleologically transcendent way is being very faithful to first Thessalonians. Teleos refers to a funnel vision into the another world as in tele-scope. Transcendant is referring, of course, to being outside of the existential reality. Thus this kind of preaching would be preaching about a vision for a future out of this world. Such preaching would be very faithful the letter a first Thessalonians and that is because in all five chapters a first Thessalonians the apostle Paul deals with the coming of Jesus Christ. This must’ve been the great question Paul had to deal with for he addresses the second coming in each of our chapters. He lifts the eyes of the people to the reality that the same Jesus who came once is coming again period that the sky will be rent in twain and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords will return and the dead in Christ will rise first and then those who are alive and remain will be caught up with them to be with the Lord forever period whatever your eschatological position we can all say as one holy Catholic apostolic Church, “Christ has died period Christ is risen. Christ will, again.” This was the teleologically transcendant vision that Paul gave the Church and it is a way for us to preach.
But my sabbatical will soon be over and sometimes soon I will return to a pastorate and I will stop using such language. People don’t say, “teleologically transcendant.” They say things like “the Sweet bye and bye.” So I will say things like, “when the roll is called up yonder.” I like that better anyway! We will say things about “Beulah land.” I will not describe it as much as I will quote from the Bible on it and declare that “the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.” And I will regain my sanity and my pastoral equilibrium will be restored, I pray!
A pastoral equilibrium must have a panoramic vision flowing from the full redemptive flow of Scripture. Every text is related to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
It is important that we are preaching our messages set within the panoramic vision of the sweeping, redemptive, panoramic plan of God that goes from Paradise lost to Paradise regained period from the fall and the eviction from Eden to a new heaven and a new earth period for in that preaching is hope against hopelessness and justice triumphing over injustice and little legs that cannot walk walking again and ears that cannot hear hearing again and eyes that cannot see seeing again in families broken by the haunting specter of dark death reunited again. In that new heaven and in that new earth there is a new world on its way — yet He is already here with the coming of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in the hearts of his people and His Kingdom is growing from the inside out as lives are transformed and souls are saved and people are reconciled through Jesus Christ. When you begin preaching out of the panorama of holy redemption in Scripture your people will begin to see. That is a Biblical vision. And in this sense, seeing—with eyes of faith from Biblical preaching on with vision—is believing.
And seeing is what biblical vision is all about period seeing Jesus ruling and raining is what biblical vision is all about period the bacteria the viruses of the world, the flesh, and the devil constantly attack to distort that vision but first Thessalonians chapter 2 has helped us to prevent such damage or perhaps to restore a biblical pastoral vision. We have noted that a biblical pastoral vision must be prophetic, personal, pastoral, as well as panoramic.
He had no symptoms of whatsoever of streptococcus pastoralitus. Indeed, his vision was prophetic, personal, pastoral, and panoromaic. His vision became his biography and his biography became the model of a faithful pastoral and biblical vision for others like John Wesley, William Carey, Francis Asbury, and the man who edited and published his diary in 1749, just two years after his death in 1747: Jonathan Edwards. David Brainerd, the missionary to the American Indians died of streptococcus pneumonia in 1747. But his vision was so filled with the lives of the American Indians he wanted to reach in the Connecticut River Valley and later Pennsylvania, that his vocation became his sanctification and his sanctification became his translation, and he would cry out:
“All my desire was the conversion of the heathen… I declare, now I am dying, I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world.”
Many were converted under Brainerd’s preaching and His vision in ministry. Many golden lampstands planted. Many pastors called. Other missionairies sent. And his Diary and Journal influences young people all over the world today to give their lives to this Gospel vision of surrending their gifts so that others will be safe in the arms of Jesus. The disease that killed him could not kill his vision. For his vision was not of himself and not of this world. It was of Christ. And others saw, which is what vision is all about: seeing what you could not see otherwise. They saw and they repented and they believed.
And now it is your time and mine to say,
“Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Heal me of any disease that would attack the lining of my call and prevent me from lifting up Christ, from loving my people, from loving the lost, and from helping them, as far as I am able, to see Jesus. Remove any disease of the soul that keeps me from Thee.”
Now is the time to say, “Be Thou My Vision…”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.