An Open Letter to Pastors

By Ross Engel

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As the Bell Ringer’s Fund comes to a close, I reflect joyously on this incredible opportunity to encourage a young seminarian in his training. A hearty thank you to everyone who donated funds to support this worthwhile cause!

In thinking about our seminarians I realized that all Pastors can benefit from some words of strength and encouragement as well. I offer this post as some encouragement to my brothers in the ministry.

Back in February Scott Keith wrote a tremendous article about Fear that has had me thinking about fear ever since. I’ve found myself contemplating fear within the realms of pastoral ministry and the shepherding of God’s flock. Certainly there exists a degree of fear and trembling in every vocation. I think of public servants, businessmen and women, volunteers in the church, and parents, every vocation carries with it some sense of worry or at least the hope that one is “doin’ a good job.”

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My life and reality is one that is rooted in the Office of Public Ministry. When I started seminary and even a few months into my first year of being ordained into the Office of Pastor, I could envision myself doing other things. However the longer I’ve served the church, I’ve found a growing and much deeper appreciation and love for this vocation that God has called me into. I have trouble picturing myself doing anything else.

I must admit, as a shepherd entrusted to care for a flock, lately I’ve found myself contemplating the simple reality that in ministry, it seems as though every pastor is one word, one sermon, one study, one missed phone call, one difficult decision, or one mistake away from having the very people that you love, that you’ve counselled, or encouraged, cared for, prayed for, held hands with in a hospital, comforted in hard times, sacrificed family and health for, who you’ve guided through life’s big moments and more, turn on you, hate you, slander you or worse .

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There are horror stories of pastors who have stuck to Scripture, the Confessions, and their convictions and then suffered for their faithfulness. I’ve heard of pastors having tires slashed, families threatened with violence, one brother was even driven off to a forest preserve for a confrontation and then was left in the middle of nowhere after a severe verbal and emotional beating filled with future threats to then find his own way home.

Emotional scars, physical sorrows, one guy named Isaiah had his beard plucked out because of his faithfulness.

Hundreds of accounts like this, along with the general day to day threat of dissatisfaction among the flock is enough to paralyze a pastor with fear. Rather than allowing the pastor to boldly lead and care for the flock he’s entrusted to serve, he finds himself second guessing himself. He no longer is shepherding boldly, instead he fears the flock, dreads his vocation as shepherd and maybe even finds in himself a willingness to depart from the truth for the sake of peace, protection, or sanity.

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I have always appreciated the bold yet subtle pastoral encouragement that Pr. Koch signs his emails with. It is a simple Latin phrase that has quickly become a favorite of mine, “Veritas Odium Parit…Timiditas Haeresis Parit” – “Telling the truth engenders hatred… Cowardice engenders Heresy.”

When it comes to the Pastoral Office, there is little room for fear, yet it is often there. Telling the truth does indeed make enemies and being a coward allows false teaching and more to sneak into the life of the Church. Struggles within this Calling are nothing new, after all the prophets of the Old Testament struggled, the New Testament Apostles died martyr’s deaths, proclaiming God’s truth and shepherding His flock is not an easy calling.

There is great comfort in these words of our Lord from Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

God calls shepherds to serve His flock not in fear, but rather in strength and in courage. Shared at nearly every Pastor’s ordination or installation are these parting words of Deuteronomy and the opening words of Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!”

Brothers, be encouraged. Be not afraid. Be strong. Be courageous. Shepherd the flock entrusted to your care!

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