THE GOSPEL, JUSTICE, AND MERCY PASTOR!
I don’t know if you have ever read a Louis L’amour western, but they often start something like this… “A tall stranger, a few inches over six feet, rides into town. He rides upon his chestnut gelding with his back straight and his six gun held in his holster by a leather loop. He is broad in the shoulders, has narrow hips, and his green eyes hold both amusement and intensity.”
The typical western hero and I don’t look anything like that. While there was an age of glorifying heroes today there sometimes seems a prejudice against heroes, as if we didn’t need them anymore. It is absolutely true that the only Messiah people need is Jesus, and none of us can or ever try to substitute for Him. Individuals can get into all kinds of ego and personality trouble when they attempt to take on the mantel of being “The Savior” for the people. Being a “Moses” can rob the people of the community of the sense that their opinions, desires, and dignity are the engine that is needed for positive change, and it is within the power of their hands and faith that can produce that change.
At the same time the movement to diminish the importance (of heroes) and a man of faith who enters into, or is raised up in, a community and brings with him passion, calling, learning, skills, ideas and giftedness deprives the neediest of communities with the blessing that such a person can bring. There is no substitute for leadership and almost no more significant gift to a community than a competent, godly, and committed leader.
The negative leader is always a disaster; the person who manipulates, who abuses, deceives and exploits those who follow him often leaves emotional, psychological, and community disintegration and wreckage behind him. We don’t need any more leaders like that. We don’t need any more cult leaders, or egomaniacs. But we still need leaders. Good leaders know how to look for talent, and if they really cared about their communities they wouldn’t think of it as a medieval fief that must be protected from all others. Some community leaders act as if anyone else entering their territory who offers hope is a foreign invasion and not a coming of reinforcements.
Pastors can and should be heroes. I am not envisioning the glory seeker, but rather the multiplier, the one who raises up indigenous leaders, the person who is not building his own kingdom but rather the kingdom of God. In poor communities, urban or otherwise, this kind of leader can make a world of difference for those locked into a very small world of poverty and limitations. It seems to me we have to cast a vision for young people that such a ministry is possible, necessary, and rewarding. It is about as challenging an occupation as one can find, and I am convinced has not been highlighted with the respect and honor that it deserves.
So, if you want to be a heroic pastor what will it require? First let me spell out what such a leader must do. He has to be an EVANGELIST. He has to tell people about Jesus and call them to faith in Christ in a convincing and compelling way. God saves people, not us, but God uses people to tell other people about the way to God. Any pastor going into an inner city must come prepared to share the faith with folks who haven’t yet met Jesus. He cannot assume he will simply gather a group of resident or relocated believers. He will also have to assume that a great many people living in a dysfunctional neighborhood are going to be dysfunctional. This means his pastoring and discipling is going to have to start with the basics and build up. Good leaders should constantly train those they lead, and discipleship is a continual pouring out from the very beginning of the relationship, with the goal of seeing new leaders formed.
The pastors we need have to be men of character, and though repenting of their own sins while owning up to their own brokenness and their own need of grace to live the Christian life, they live out what they preach. If they are honest they themselves might feel they are skating the edge, that they are not worthy of the office, but their transparency will win them love and loyalty.
There are many people in poor communities who have faith and there is a lot of religion among the poor. There just aren’t enough dynamic congregations that love their communities and love them in the truth of the Gospel. There aren’t enough congregations that know how to be holistic in their approach to the human struggle. This is why pastors need to be CHAMPIONS of JUSTICE. He must know the God of justice, preach Biblical concepts of justice, call others to justice, and be willing to suffer with and be a witness to those who don’t get it. There are some who stand up for justice while not giving people the hope of a Savior. Their immersion in social causes substitutes for Gospel ministry. There are some who give a heavenly hope but are never advocates for those who suffer, their preaching diminishes the physical humanity of people, the very thing Jesus came to be a part of for us.
There are some who preach and demand justice but show no effective mercy. We need pastors who know how to lead groups of people (their own church) into how to help people with their economic emergencies and who know how to develop people (and economic opportunity) so those emergencies become fewer and fewer. We need pastors who LOVE MERCY, who preach it, teach how to give it, organize their congregations to deliver it, and practice it.
The Evangelist, the man who knows how to dispense real physical, financial, and emotional help at the time it is needed, and the man who raises a clarion call against injustice without bitterness or spite but in love and faith, now that is a man to be reckoned with. Such a man may not have a horse or carry a gun, but once he is engaged in a community people take notice. At least the Devil does, because such a leader makes a difference, sees lives changed, and a community improved.