Since getting sick (I am getting more stable now, thank you for your prayers) I get to go back through old manuscripts, old sermons, and, especially satisfying, old letters. Here is one.
I am preparing a book for Christian Focus Publications on pastoral theology. This letter helped to sharpen a thought for a chapter that I needed to complete. The thought that guided my chapter was summarized in a charge I gave to the young pastor in this note below: “Don’t be a CEO. Be a shepherd.” There is a reason that I say this. I won’t get into that here, but I will in the soon-to-be-published book. I hope that I am accurate, but charitable, in my diagnosis and I pray I am balanced, but Biblical in my treatment. That will be dealt with in days to come. For now let me share this heart-felt, but, quite, uncanonical pastoral epistle.
Here is what I wrote in preface and the letter itself.
In the springtime when the golden, Welsh daffodils gather in glorious brigades—brave, young, mythical sentinels appearing out of the fertile earth, guarding a new countryside painted with a Creator’s palette of happy color—and spring lambs are born; in the far pasture a wet Jersey calf hides in the tall, green Rye as its little, light-brown mother licks away the winter womb’s wrapping; and sweet little downy chicks run around the hen-house like tiny lemon drops with twigs for legs, chirping a cheerful, new song never heard, yet forever sung: and these things were mine as a child on a truck crop farm in Louisiana. They are, gratefully, mine—ours, now. But that which is being born before me is no longer one of the Lord’s little creatures of the field. No, now I see new pastors being born. These dear pastoral foals, wet with the birthing time of systematic theology, classes in Greek grammar and Hebrew Exegesis, apologetics and church history, are now springing forth into a new world, with long legged, wobbly dreams that are often the very thing that trips them up and makes them tumble back to earth, at least for a bit. They are young – newly born, I say – and so they quickly get up and kick up their heels and try to prance like the stallion. Only those watching can laugh the laugh of joy, never mockery, mind you—forbid it to ever be—for we once ran, we once pranced, and we, too, were young pastors in the springtime of ministry. This is the springtime for new pastors. And the Lord saw it. And it was good.
On occasion, I am granted the great honor of being invited to preach the installation or give a charge to these new pastors, fresh from their ordination exams. Sometimes I can’t, as in a recent invitation which conflicted with earlier ministry commitments. Yet I seek to write as many of these young pastors as I can. For in them, I see something beautiful—a future of the Church of Jesus Christ which I would not otherwise see. These days I am seeing so much good in these newborn shepherd-lambs. These days I am praising God for a good crop of new springtime pastors who will shepherd the flock better than I did.
Here is a letter I wrote recently. I use it as a prayer for all of you congregations with new pastors and all of you new pastors and all of you pastors who will embrace the spring of this year as the new season of your own ministry, no matter how long it has been since you pranced.
My Dear Fellow Pastor and Sister in Christ and Little Children:
Greetings and congratulations to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! My friend, I remember, so vividly, being in my study at First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, and speaking of the things of God and of the pastorate and of the stirring of the Lord in your life. I remember talking about how seminary would be a blessing to you. I saw your zeal and desire to grow deeper in the word of God and the obvious call of Christ upon your life as a pastor. I knew that a good “School of the Prophets” would be just the thing to help you prepare for a life of ministry. Now, to see those cherished moments of yesterday to be blessed of God today, and to come to fruition at this time, with your ordination and installation as a new pastor, must be a source of deep satisfaction to you and causes all of us to strengthen our trust in the God who truly completes what He starts (Philippians 1:7).
I’m so sorry that I was unable to attend the service and accept your preaching invitation. Please know that I remain deeply humbled and honored by that sweet invitation. I am certain that the commitments to previous appointments, as worthy as they are, will rob me of a special occasion I would have had with you. Oh how sweet those times are! Yet my prayers are unhindered: I trust and pray the Lord anoints you for ministry so that many souls are claimed for Christ, many lives are transformed, and your hope and your glory and your joy will be those souls—and generations that follow them—safe in the arms of Jesus Christ when he comes again (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
I pray blessings down upon your beloved wife and your dear children. I ask that the leadership of the church, and all the saints, will be happily united in their new pastor and your Biblical vision and mission for the Kingdom of God, beginning in your community and unto the ends of the earth. My son in the faith, preach and pray, “Do the work of an evangelist,” counsel Biblically, and serve your congregation out of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in your daily life of prayer. May the pastor of that congregation truly be an “Enoch” who walks with God. Oh that your entire life and ministry would overflow from time with Jesus and Jesus alone! Watch out for peddlers who would steer under-shepherds of Christ away from the ordinary means of grace in feeding His lambs. Word, Sacrament, and Prayer calls, converts, sustains, and will get your flock home to the Good Shepherd His way.
Be a shepherd, not a CEO.
May your home life, my beloved sister in Christ, be a wellspring of warm and holy hospitality to those who need to know Jesus Christ through you. May your children come to love the Church as they grow in the grace and admonition of the Lord with their father as their pastor. Help him to make your home a “little church” for your family as much as you desire your church to be a “little family” for others.
My own family sends their love and greetings to you all. I trust you will give my warm greetings to your new congregation and know that we are proud, in Christ, of you, excited about your ministry, optimistic about the work of Christ in you, and trust that I will always be
Your Very Thankful Old (former)! Pastor, Your Servant, and Your
Colleague in the Gospel of God’s Grace,
- On the Preparation of the Pastoral Prayer (michaelmilton.org)