Some years ago I talked with a Vietnamese pastor who commented on the ministry in a way that I will always remember. He told me that he had been the only pastor in a refugee camp. “We had no books”, he said, “no paper, nothing that enabled us to have even a modest membership administration.” He then explained that, in spite of these limitations, a surprising amount of pastoral work took place. In fact, the limitations seemed to add to pastoral effectiveness. “All my pastoral work consisted to spelling out the gospel orally to anyone who would listen. And since an awful lot of talking went on among us, the gospel spread rapidly.”
But then he added something else. He told of his immigration to the USA and of his becoming a pastor of a regular Vietnamese congregation. “What joy it was,” he said, “to have a building and Sunday services and study sources and study groups and transportation and administration and committees.” Then he added some more… “I have now also become the keeper of an institution and my members are very busy and their concerns to keep their families fed are many. I find it now more difficult”, he said, “to do ministry in the company of Jesus.”
Now think of your local congregation. I hope it is a well-appointed church. That requires good administration and organization. You not only obey the Word in your church practices but also go by customs and a set of rules adopted by your denomination. Institutional concerns abound. Your weekly bulletin spells out events and decisions that undergird a well-run church.
But we must remember that all those provisions and practices are meant to deepen our faith. We are being drawn closer to God, our heavenly Father, and ever again renewed in our bonds with Christ our Savior. Preaching covers many of life's issues – the Bible does – but the heart of preaching is the great invitation to give our lives over to our Savior. As we think about our church and all its concerns, there must be that extension, “hold me close to your bosom, dear Savior Christ.” As we think of the many demands of life, we add: “Lord help me to walk with you as we struggle to find solutions.”
The Form for the Installation of Elders suggests that too. “Elders are thus responsible for the spiritual well-being of God's people.” And they themselves must be personally devoted to their Sender and Savior, The Form adds: “Remember at all times that if you would truly give spiritual leadership... you must be completely mastered by your Lord.”
Eugene Peterson wrote: “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communion of sinners gathered before God week after week.... The Holy Spirit gathers them and does His work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and is given a designated responsibility: to keep the community attentive to God.”