My hometown suffered some recent tragedies entirely uncharacteristic of our self-image. Whether it is a little self-deceiving to believe it, we still see Colorado Springs as a sleepy, small town with lots of churches and conservative Christians (though in reality we are well over half-a-million is size, and mostly unchurched). With two “mass” shootings in the last two months, we are forced to take a second look at what is going on in our city. The pastor is uniquely poised to do exactly that because of what they are given to work with.
This has helped remind me that the pastor's job is always a combination of the local and current, and the universal and unchanging.
The Pastor’s Job is Intensely Local
The local congregation is a kind of focal point for the kingdom of God here on earth, like a child’s magnifying glass used to focus the rays of the sun on a dry leaf. The great and eternal truths of God are intensified when believers gather together to hear the Word of God, pray, and disciple each other. The presence of God is magnified when brothers and sisters in Christ join together to worship. Life with Christians over a period of time reveals things that would not be seen otherwise. The pastor learns what lies in peoples’ past, walks with them through some of the most difficult times you can imagine, and even gets to dedicate babies and baptize new believers. These events provide a local flavor for the pastor that cannot be developed if he or she has their study door closed and head in the sky. Some pastors neglect people for their study and thus miss the beauties and developed wisdom of living with people. Some seek broad acclaim and use their local congregation to reach the next rung in the ladder, thus using something God intended as an end as a means for their own glory.
The best pastors in our past were able to use their local congregation to meet the ends of both pastoral wisdom and deepening theological acumen (think of Jonathan Edwards on the American frontier and Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones during WWII). A pastor, as Scripture envisions him or her, is a theologian of sorts who lives, breathes, and works among a particular group of people in a particular setting. The local provides us with the warp and woof of daily life and naturally affects the pastor's work. But the local cannot subsume the universal.
The Pastorate is Inescapably Universal
In the local church, the pastor has the responsibility of communicating the truths of the faith once and for all handed down to us by the saints and communicated in Scripture. The pastor's text is (or, ought to be) the Word of God in all its full and varied wisdom. While we live within communities that experience their own seasons of blessing and cursing, the pastor is at their best when they bring the universal and unchanging truths of Christ to bear upon each season.
In our community's most recent tragedy, our congregation prayed for the loss of a sister congregation across town and reached out to them in Christian brotherhood, and those of us who have connections to those touched by the tragedy are reaching out as we can. But we also must talk about Christ. When the press of the current events seems the strongest, the church must remember to glorify the one, true hope of us all, Jesus Christ. Our Sunday text for the weekend of the latest shooting was Colossians 2:6-15. It was fitting for the church to emphasize Christus Victor on a weekend when we feel the weight of sin, and the despair into which it leads many. We must, as Paul admonished us, avoid false philosophies about human nature and false political utopianism, and keep ourselves rooted in the victory of Jesus Christ.
When the church proclaims the universal truths of Christ in an ever-changing world, we are the most relevant and the most powerful.