I was wonderfully blessed to read the following early this morning by an esteemed, long term Welsh pastor, Geoff Thomas (this is just an excerpt). You can read the whole of his article here, but I may be posting another excerpt later on…
WE PASTOR OURSELVES
Paul in his farewell to the elders in Ephesus exhorts them to keep watch over themselves (Acts 20:28). That is to be their first priority, and then he adds, ‘and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God’, but the focus is first on the elders’ self-watch. What a tragedy to hear a man saying, ‘I watched the flock, but I failed to watch myself. I gave other people fine advice about problems. I even gave fellow ministers who called me for help wise counsels and yet I failed to exhort my own heart.’
What is the greatest need of the flock in Aberystwyth? That I keep watch over myself. If we have a loving, lingering attachment to some sins, not willing to mortify them or confess them to God, then God will chastise us in various ways. There will be heartache in our lives or in the life of the church; there will be unanswered prayer. An echo of the troubles we are causing will be found in those in our own spheres. We may have truth on our lips, but unless the truth guards our hearts and lives we cannot enjoy the Lord’s enriching blessing. That blessing is God’s new covenant commitment to do what he has promised to do.
Does the blessing of God resting on us characterize our lives now? Is our delight and even amazement in seeing the promises of God fulfilled in our experience and in the life of the church again and again? Are we living in such a way that we are not afraid of man; the only thing we deeply fear is offending God? The one thing that matters is God’s blessing resting upon my life and the congregation, that I might decrease and the Lord might increase, that God be all in all. The first thing you must do in admiring a work of art, said C.S.Lewis, is to forget yourself. Step aside. Take yourself out of the picture and then begin to growingly appreciate what is actually in the statue, or painting. So it is with the work of the pastor. He is not the answer to the various needs of the congregation. Jesus Christ is the answer while the pastor is a mere channel to bring the reality of our great Prophet, Priest and King to the people. The pastor then wants God to be glorified in the midst of the flock by the means of grace through his own pastoral leadership. He wants this earthen pot to contain a healing and invigorating cordial that he can bring to them week by week. Pastor yourself! That desire will sometimes lead to resistance and rejection. In the process he may lose his Manse, his salary, his pulpit, his health and his friendships, but that is a price worth paying if the blessing of the Lord, and the smile of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit are retained.
I must take heed to myself. That is the number one priority to the pastor. Not correct exegesis, not seeing and using history of redemption insights, not higher experiences of God, not a grasp of the five points of Calvinism – crucially important though all those things may be – but your own close walk with God to heaven. Many of my own problems have come because of my failure to watch myself. Disaffection, weariness, boring, unapplied and unaffectionate sermons, shrinking congregations, failure to restore the lost, lack of evangelistic earnestness – such failures have all come not because I failed to attend the right church growth conference but because I failed to watch my own heart.
I believe that if you’ve had an utterly hectic week with extra pressures and demands, a number of them coming out of the blue so that you’ve had hardly any time to prepare your sermons, that if you’re a man of God who keeps watch over himself then God will bless the mustard seed of preparation you’ve accomplished and will give you an excellent time in the pulpit on Sunday and fruit from that ministry. But if you’re not taking heed to yourself, even if you’ve spent hours in preparation, and technically it is a correct sermon, exegetically unfaultable, lively, with bracing illustrations, balanced in its ministry to sinner and saint, yet God’s blessing does not rest on it because you are not pastoring your own heart.
[emphasis added, pdb]