Having lived in the senior pastor’s world for five years and in the associate pastor’s world for 13, I can say from experience that being called of God to shepherd his flock can often be a daunting task. It was in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life. It was also in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most wearisome moments of my life. There were times when I lay down on the floor of my office with my face planted in the rug (and if I could have gotten any lower, I would have), begging God through streaming tears to intervene, to vindicate, or to deliver.
In those moments God sometimes brought a comfort I did not understand. But other times, he simply reminded me of my calling – a pastor is who I am because a pastor is who God called me to be. There were many times in the pastor’s world when the only solace and comfort I found was to just remind myself that I was called of God. Now in a position where I have the honor of serving and supporting pastors and churches across the state of Texas, I am reminded every day that resting in the sure calling of God is often the pastor’s only consolation. As it should be.
When God calls a pastor, he calls the man first to himself, then to a people. Loving and serving God is generally easy. But loving and serving the people to whom he has called you is… well, let’s be honest… people can be hard to love. Pastors are often slandered and subverted, defamed and denigrated. It is difficult to love and serve people who go to such great length to destroy you. But in moments of dejection and despair, the pastor is to rest secure in the solace of God’s calling. He is to remember that God has called him first to himself, and secondly to the people under his care.
King David had been called of God, from shepherding sheep in the field to shepherding an entire nation spread across the land of Israel. David was a good boy. He had the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior. But as you read 1 and 2 Samuel it becomes obvious that the only reason David was fit to be king over Israel was because God had called him to it. He was God’s anointed. God called David first to himself and secondly to the people of Israel. God could have anointed anyone king in Israel, but he chose David. That’s it. That calling from God would prove to be David’s only solace many times throughout his life.
Take, for example, 2 Samuel Chapters 15-18. David pardoned his son Absalom from banishment after he had killed one of his brothers for raping his sister (Jerry Springer would have eaten this up). Upon his pardon, Absalom surreptitiously positioned himself between the people of Israel and their king, David. Over the course of a few years Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” with his silver tongue and his charming demeanor (2 Sa 15:1-6). In short, David had been sabotaged by his own son. Absalom undermined God’s anointed and stole the kingdom away. I guess some people just have that (un)spiritual giftedness about them. Most pastors have, at some point, had a member of the flock clandestinely smooth talk his or her way into the hearts of the other sheep. It wasn’t long before the people of Israel called Absalom their king, and David was forced to abscond. By verse 30, we see David at the lowest he had ever been – having escaped his arrest in the city, yet held prisoner by his own depression in the mountains.
I’ll be honest, pastor: Absaloms will hurt you the most. The people you think are for you – you have served them graciously and poured your heart out for their benefit, even when they did not necessarily deserve it. They’ve taken you to lunch and have slipped you a $50 bill here and there, “for you and your sweet wife”. They have spoken your praises from the well-lit platform, but planned your demise in the dark corners. And one day you are blindsided by the realization that all along they’ve been playing you like they’ve been playing everyone else – and you will be the one to fall. That hurts, pastor. I know.
To add insult to injury (literally), as David continued his retreat a man named Shimei walked beside him assaulting him verbally and physically, from Bahurim all the way to the Jordan River. That’s about 15 miles! 2 Samuel 16:5-14 details Shimei’s special ministry to King David – a ministry of defamation, slander, and physical battering. Thank God for Shimei’s, right? Those people in your flock, pastor, who have the uncanny ability to kick you when you’re down. Like blood-sucking leaches, they wait to make their move until you are weary and drained; they capitalize on your disheartened exhaustion to latch on and suck from you the last bit of life you have left.
You know the ones I’m talking about. You spent all day Thursday in crisis marital counseling sessions then committee meetings. You got a call Friday afternoon just before you finished nursing home visits to inform you that one of your young families had been in a car accident – off to the hospital you went. Saturday morning one of your deacons knocked on your door at home because “we need to talk” – a two hour conversation that revealed the urgent need for three hours worth of follow-up. Sunday morning immediately before the worship service began, one of the children’s workers stopped you in the hallway to complain about supplies going missing from her closet. Absolutely drained, you preached your sermon from the end of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 with lackluster. And the first person to catch you after the service (he may wait until Monday Morning, if you’re lucky) is Mr. Smith who takes the liberty of criticizing your sermon, attacking your devotion to the pastorate, and questioning your ability to lead the church. God bless you, Shimei.
At this point, King David just wants to give up. Can I tell you a secret? There were a few times in the pastorate where I honestly felt that way, too. But here’s what’s great about resting in the call of God alone: in Chapter 15, David was sabotaged by a smooth talker… in Chapter 16 David was defamed by a slanderous accuser… but in Chapter 17 David was delivered by the Lord’s decree (v.14). As it turned out, David’s enemies had been plotting against him in the dark corners, then defaming him on the high hills. But the whole time, God was for David because it was he who was anointed. It was he who was called. The war that David’s enemies incited brought about their own destruction. In the end, because David rested in the call, God subverted the subverters. He slayed the slanderers. He demolished the defamers.
Pastor, I have no doubt that you know how David felt. You live in the pastor’s (shepherd’s) world, too. You will spend entire seasons of your pastorate dealing with the surreptitious scheming of smooth talkers and/or enduring the malicious verbal barrage of flagrant fools. But if you’ll remember that God has called you first to himself – and if you’ll trust in his faithfulness to you in every circumstance – you will see God take you from defamation to deliverance in a way that brings him great glory and always works out for your good.
David was sabotaged. David was slandered. David was defamed and demoralized. But in the end, all that matted was that David was anointed by God. This is the beauty of life in the pastor’s world. Difficulty, dejection, and despair will, at some point, find you. But remember while your face is buried in the tear-stained polyester of your office rug that in the end, pastor, as long as you are faithful, all that matters is that you have been called by God.
Grace and Peace,