John Piper has an article in Christianity Today on racism, his personal story, and the gospel. The line that catches my attention most is this one, near the end:
I am not a good example of an urban pastor. Because of the way I believe God calls me to use my time, I don't have significant relationships with most of my neighbors. Nor does our church reflect the diversity of this neighborhood.
There is diversity, but nothing like the statistics above. Probably I could have been far more effective in immediate urban impact in this neighborhood if I had not written books or carried on a wider speaking ministry. Some thank me for this ministry, and others think I have made a mistake. Again, you may see why I cherish and cling to the gospel of Jesus.
The reason this line sticks out at me is because of the pastoral theology built into it. I think many seminarians would like to pattern their ministry after Piper’s.
I think they are misguided.
Even if Piper was right to do what he did in his ministry (and I am not questioning that), most seminarians and pastors are not gifted that way. The sooner we realize that, the freer we will be to be and do what God has called and gifted us to do.
The better path to pastoral ministry is the one Piper didn’t take—the one that builds significant relationships with people, does the work of an evangelist, and knows and love those who live in your neighborhood.
Carl Trueman has a related post, related at least in my mind. He quotes an letter or email sent to him this week, and concludes with this:
These people need to realise that, in the current context, if you come preaching a message which doesn't draw attention to yourself, doesn't make your name a brand, doesn't pull in huge crowds and doesn't bring in the big money, there's only one thing that they will do to you.
They will crucify you.
This continues the theme of my previous post, namely, that most of us are just going to be ordinary pastors. And that’s okay.
We aren’t going to build megachurches after starting with two stray dogs and a dead cat. Our congregations will not double every six months. Our entire church budget will probably be less than a congressman’s salary. And most years we will fall short of that congressman’s salary
And that’s okay.
We are going to work hard, preach faithfully though probably not very eloquently, and get to know the people in our church and our neighborhood. We are going to cry with them with they grieve and rejoice with them when they dance. We will welcome their babies, marry their children, and bury their parents. We will weep over their marriage troubles and pray over their major surgeries. We will be able to scan the congregation on Sunday morning and see who’s missing. And we will do all this because we know them.
And that’s okay.
We won’t be invited around the world to speak to large crowds. No one will ask us to sign their Bibles afterward. We won’t have our own section in the bookstore. We will never even get published.
And that’s okay.
We will carry out the charge given to a man hardly anyone has ever heard of. In fact, if I didn’t give the man’s name, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell us who he was.
This man was told:
"Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." (Colossians 4:17).
And if we do that, it will be okay.