“Although I didn’t believe in Jesus, I still believed you were saved, and that the grace of God was real in your life”. Words like these of my sister are intriguing, and you almost cannot put your finger on the situation–but many of us who follow Jesus have experiences of this nature with close friends of family. I cannot attribute this to anything other than the surprising grace of God breaking in and through me.
David Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring put words to experiences like this, and broke down for me three realizations necessary for pastoral work: parable, the Paraclete, and people.
We are living parables of Jesus Christ to those around us. Since Jesus Himself is our Good Shepherd (John 10), pastors follow in His footsteps of shepherding work-leading, feeding, protecting. Through that work, the pastor is able to convey in the flesh the very person of Jesus. When I would listen to my sister, she was experiencing Jesus’ ear, when I would comfort her it tragedy, it was His heart she experience, and when I prayed for her, she knew Jesus had desires for her. This is no small calling. For the pastor, everyday, mundane situations are “Holy Ground” opportunities into which another can be invited. Any day could be the day that God uses you to bring someone into His presence and then have you getting out of the way. The possibility of someone receiving Jesus through me as His parable (Matthew 10:40) is an immense privilege, and I seek to have that mindset in my planned and unplanned ministry.
Walking parables of Jesus must be united to God, which happens through the work of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is the verb...The Holy Spirit is the love of God” (Hansen, 47). Pastors must be filled with this love of God, for how else will they be equipped to convey it to others without first abiding in it themselves?
The entire ability for the pastor to be seen as a faithful, walking parable of Jesus Christ is contingent upon his staying united to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It was the “verb-love” of the Holy Spirit through me that my sister saw and He profoundly impacted her understanding of God’s love–initially towards me, and then later towards her.
Understanding that the Holy Spirit is the ‘verb-love’ of God also gives the pastor the ability to serve their congregation by helping them understand what God is doing inside of individual hearts. To congregants that lean heavy on feeling, the pastor can help tie truth to feelings their experiencing. They can point that the goosebumps they sense when pondering the love of God is actually the work of the Holy Spirit inside them to receive these feelings.
Then there are some congregants who understand truth conceptually, but don’t know if the Spirit is at work. To them, the pastor can encourage that those deep times of their sense of the abiding love of God in their heart–those ‘feelings’ they don’t know what to do with–is God’s pouring out His love on us through the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). So when they’re unsure if the Spirit is at work, the pastor can tie their unsure feelings to the truth they know conceptually.
Lastly, it’s imperative that I be a deep lover of people. Hansen said, “It is easy to confuse loving being around people with actually loving people” (Hansen, 40). When the pastor himself hurts for those whom he loves when they’re hurting, his love and compassion reaches close towards Jesus’ (Matthew 20:34).
I must feel that type of love for the people around me. This pastoral love-work often looks like spending time with those in great need in my congregation and community. It’s sad and convicting to reflect on my lack of time spent with people who are sick, elderly, or imprisoned–oftentimes I am more concerned with ‘progress’ and ‘building a team’ then ministering as Jesus did. Jesus didn’t spend time with people based on their return on investment, as as a parable of Jesus, neither should I.
The Pastor has a great opportunity to be filled with the Spirit and be a walking parable of Jesus to the people around him he loves. This may not always feel like sermon preparation, board meetings, or pot-lucks...but it may. Pastoral ministry implores us not to take any situation too lightly, understanding that we may, in any moment, be used as a conduit of the surprising grace of God. And who knows? You may have an experience like mine, where after five years of praying and asking, God opens your sister’s heart up to the reality of His grace.