I am preparing a farewell sermon to my church.
It’s my first major ministry transition—and therefore a welcome time to reflect on the Lord’s faithfulness.
I remember the moment I first aspired to the pastoral office. In a Bible college class on Acts, my professor was reading through Paul’s farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders in chapter 20. I casually listened until he read verse 28—it made my heart stop and the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
“Pay careful attention to yourself and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the flock of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” It was as if a divine finger pushed between my ribs, impressing on me the weight of this call. In that moment, the gravity of pastoral ministry came startlingly into view—at last I grasped what a pastor is. He’s an authority under authority, a steward and a manager, caring for God’s choicest possession: his flock.
A pastor labors in a high and hazardous occupation. He’s charged to nourish and lead and protect Christ’s little lambs. And Christ cares about his little lambs.
If I leave my computer in the care of another, their poor management means something, but not nearly as much as mishandling my car or home. If I leave my children in the protection of another, however, and my kids suffer as a result, what I feel about losing a computer or car or home isn’t worth comparing to my indignation at my family’s mistreatment.
Pastoral ministry is a hazardous occupation. The more cherished the possession, the higher the stakes for stewarding it.
The more cherished the possession, the higher the stakes for stewarding it. And if this is true for fallen creatures in relation to their children, how much more does it apply to the God of heaven and earth! All this I felt with cold, sober fear when I heard those words, “which he obtained with his own blood.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher.
The Verse I Wasn’t Ready For
Fast forward six years: after being examined and tested, my pastors and church family affirmed my aspiration. I became an elder, and the gravity I’d felt in that classroom was nothing compared to what I felt the Monday following my ordination. Suddenly, the weighty responsibility of pastoral ministry was no longer hypothetical. I was now responsible to shepherd this flock—these brothers and sisters, with names and faces and families and burdens and sins and victories as unique as they were. And the fearful call to shepherd them for the past five years has been one of the greatest (and most difficult) gifts of my life.
But I write this piece on the precipice of a new kind of weightiness—one for which, I confess, I was ill-prepared. Because I now have to entrust them wholly into the care of other undershepherds.
The decision to leave my current post was not made lightly; it was a long process with much prayer and counsel. The difficulty I now face is not indecision, but rather entrusting my “loose ends” to Christ and the undershepherds he’s raised up to care for this flock I so dearly love.
The difficulty I now face is entrusting my ‘loose ends’ to Christ and the undershepherds he’s raised up to care for this flock I so dearly love.
I’ve often imagined myself as one of the elders to whom Paul spoke in Acts 20. In this transition, then, I was prepared to hear his words: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (v. 28). I was not, however, prepared to speak Paul’s words: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32).
Trusting the Lord of Loose Ends
I’ve long known that Christ is the head of the church; he is the Good Shepherd; he has raised up the undershepherds he intends to care for his flock; he has sovereignly brought the sheep he means to graze here in these pastures.
Affirming these truths in the abstract is one thing. It’s another issue entirely when concrete relationships are involved; when members you’ve discipled for years aren’t free from the addiction to porn; when members you’ve counseled through life-changing tragedies are still in the midst of them; when you’re departing amid church discipline cases; when crumbling marriages aren’t yet restored; when members you care for deeply are entering new seasons of suffering you won’ be able to see them through. In the face of such uncertainty, a strong doctrine of providence and a trust in Christ’s care for his people are as necessary as oxygen.
I cannot count the loose ends I’m leaving behind. But Christ can.
I cannot count the loose ends I’m leaving behind. But Christ can, and he has purposes for each one. He sees their needs with infinite accuracy, and his love is infinitely resourceful. “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32) is not a feeble, last-resort benediction—as if to say, “I wish I could do more, but it is what it is.” No, they’re the most comforting words I can utter. For when I entrust my congregation to God, I entrust them to hands of limitless care. There is for them no safer place in the world.