Pastoral ministry is an incredible
blessing, and at times, a real burden. Often it’s both. Newlife is blessed to
be the spiritual home for more than 3000 people; from new-borns to almost one
hundred years old and everything in between. Shepherding the flock under our
care (1 Peter 5:2) can feel daunting in its size and complexity. Systems and
strategies help, but at the end of the day only go so far. When it’s all said
and done, effective pastoral care is birthed from, and empowered by love – ‘agape’
love – self-sacrificing, expecting-nothing-in-return, love.
One of Newlife’s six stated values is Genuine
Love. It’s another way of saying agape love. We long to be a community
increasingly marked by joyful, sacrificial love for God and one another. Those
of us called to pastor God’s people seek to shepherd with Genuine Love. What
does it look like?
Well, Genuine Love is passionate for, and
Genuine Love is purposeful.
Genuine Love is personal; it risks getting
Genuine Love is prayerful; it offers only
what has first been received from God.
Again and again we read in the gospels that
Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’. It was an emotional, visceral reaction that
led to practical and immediate response.
On one occasion Jesus hears the terrible
news that his cousin, John, has been brutally executed. In his grief, Jesus
withdraws to a solitary place (Matthew 14:13). But the crowds follow him:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)
With passion, Jesus didn’t avoid the
interruption – he embraced it. Genuine Love does not run from people’s needs,
it wades knee deep into them.
A little later in the story Jesus sees 5000
hungry men (and many more women and children) in desperate need of a feed. The disciples
see a logistical nightmare – an impossibility. Jesus sees an opportunity for
the people’s needs and his power to meet.
Genuine Love then births a miracle with five loaves and two fish.
Again and again when I move towards the often
overwhelming needs of people I find in my empty hands what I need to extend
love in that moment.
Jesus attracted crowds with his teaching
and miracle-working. But it was his love – agape love – that set him apart from
so many other rabbis, charismatic teachers and would be saviours of his day.
Genuine Love is passionate about people,
especially the least, the lost and the lonely. Genuine Love is drawn again and
again to the Imago Dei in every person, including and especially the most
At the turn of the 20th century,
American politician, leader and adventurer said:
don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.(Teddy Roosevelt)
In the end, Genuine Love recognises that people
are not problems to be solved, or projects to be worked on but have been
created by love, for love.
Like pastoral ministry, parenting is not
for the faint of heart. It can be a wild, roller-coaster of an adventure as you
pour your heart and soul into raising your kids. Most parents of young children would be clear
in their purpose, even if its unstated. Our goal is to see our kids become
well-adjusted, ready-for-the-world adults – to mature at the same pace
emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as they do physically. A loving parent will sacrifice (time, money,
energy…) and will risk (hopefully temporary) rejection to do so.
Genuine Love is purposeful
Jesus spent three years, pretty much 24/7
pouring his love into 12 misfit men. It was a purpose-filled, three-year
formation intensive. His love was shaping them as his disciples.
Following the example and command of Jesus,
those of us called to pastoral leadership love with a similar purpose – to see
people mature, becoming more like Jesus.
That’s why Genuine Love will sometimes be tough. Genuine Love will humbly
ask the hard questions, compassionately challenge destructive behaviours – as well
as encourage and cheer every step made towards maturity in Christ.
If we are to pastor with Genuine Love, our
primary focus will not be on the obsession of our age to build a ‘personal
platform’, or the immediate demands of a myriad of worthy projects and programs
– but people. Genuine Love prioritises people above all other competing demands,
other than communion with God. More on that in a bit.
Tragedy can upend the most mundane of days.
In 1996 I was working in Tasmania, planning a national youth convention. One
afternoon a work colleague left work a little early to ride her bike home. A
couple of hours later we received the call to say she had been killed in an
accident. We were devastated. I was floundering. That night, my friend and
mentor Craig called me from Adelaide. He said he’d drop everything, get on a
plane and come to stand with us in our grief; with me in my grief.
Craig’s Genuine Love for me and us was
personal and profound. Genuine love will always be closely, intimately
Genuine Love Gets involved. Genuine Love
draws near. It’s what Jesus did again and again.
One day Jesus was moving through Jericho,
the crowds swarming around him still. He wasn’t planning to stop, nor stay. But
then he saw someone everyone else ignored, actually avoided – Zacchaeus the tax
collector, hiding in the foliage of a sycamore tree:
When Jesus reached the
spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I
must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
Genuine Love sees, it stops, it steps in.
Genuine Love is never arm’s length, but always up close and personal.
For we who pastor, Genuine Love is always
on the lookout for the one – the one God is calling us to serve without agenda except
to love as we have been loved.
Genuine Love Prays. Always prays. Listening
and asking; seeking and receiving.
The Apostle Paul’s pastoral ministry was
saturated in prayer. His epistles begin and end with prayer for the people
under his care. Mid-letter he will often
break out in prayer. For example, see Ephesians 3:14-19. At the end of the same
epistle he offers this charge:
Always keep on
praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
Always and all. Wow.
Here’s one way I seek to live out this encouragement. Every Sunday, with
a bunch of others, I enjoy the privilege of praying with people after one of
our gatherings – for healing, wisdom, provision, breakthrough faith…
This is holy ground.
The same day I note who I’ve prayed for and for what. For the next seven
days I continue to pray for them. It’s
one, small step to ‘always and all’.
Often Newlife people will come to my mind, any time of day, seemingly
randomly. I’ve learned, slowly, these
promptings are often from the Holy Spirit. So I will text or call, telling them
they’ve been on my mind, asking if there is anything I can pray for. It’s amazing what emerges from these
God-breathed conversations. I know it’s not always God that brings people to
mind, but no matter. I find people are pretty receptive to any offer to pray
for them, whether prompted by God or not.
Genuine Love is passionate, purposeful, personal and prayerful.
A couple of things as I finish. Love, by its very nature, is costly.
Genuine Love certainly is. And we are
finite, flawed creatures. Pastoral needs press in on us and can threaten to
overwhelm. Often as a pastor I will need to let go again of my ‘messiah complex’,
thinking I need to rescue everyone. I can’t rescue all. Never could, never will.
But God does call me to ensure that those under my care are genuinely loved
in the ways I have illustrated. This is where the Body of Christ is divine
genius. The church is a living, breathing organism sustained by Genuine Love
from God, overflowing for each other. In all of this, there are some God is
calling me to go deep with. I love how Andy Stanley puts it:
Do for one what you wish
you could do for everyone. (Andy Stanley)
Last, Genuine Love is sustained by an overflow of LOVE received. If I
love out my own strength I will soon be overwhelmed by compassion fatigue, or
worse, bitterness and disappointment and burnout.
I love because I was first loved. Genuinely, sacrificially and
I cannot overflow with Genuine Love for others unless I am always
standing under the forever flowing waterfall of God’s Genuine Love for me. Put another way, I cannot lead people to a
well I’m not drinking from myself.
And so, freely I receive again and again in order that I can freely give
– again and again.