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God Gives Our Waiting PurposeBy Vaneetha Rendall Risner — 10 months ago
Waiting for the Lord.Hoping in his word.Watching for the morning.
Those phrases from Psalm 130 still bring me to tears. They describe how I lived for years, after my once-comfortable life dissolved in front of me. I waited, hoped, and watched for life to be good again.
I wanted the wait to be over quickly so my life could return to normal and I could move on. But those years taught me that in God’s hands, waiting is not a meaningless pause, an empty space to be rushed past. No, waiting has a purpose, much deeper and more refining than I ever would have imagined.
Songs That Taught Me Stillness
The psalms showed me how to wait. In my desperate longing, I read them over and over and over again. They gave me words when I had none. They gave me hope when hope was gone. They taught my heart how to trust God even in my darkest hours.
The psalms named the ache in my waiting and gave me words I could offer to God. Through the psalms, I learned that waiting is a holy exercise, one that requires my full attention. I learned stillness and silence, hope, patience, and trust.
Stillness (Psalm 37:7) and silence (Psalm 62:5) let me hear from God, without the noise of technology and the chatter of people vying for my attention. God’s still small voice spoke to my inner being when I intentionally stopped and listened. I wanted to be busy while I waited, to distract myself from the pain of the present empty moment and my overwhelming longings, but God invited me to bring those longings to him instead. Instead of busyness, I found my rest in him. Instead of distraction, my eyes and ears fixed on him.
Waiting patiently for the Lord (Psalm 40:1) is a common theme in the psalms. In those years of waiting, I was often impatient, ready to move on and move past my pain. If impatience is being discontent with the present moment, then patience is embracing the present and letting God meet me in it. I can enter into a holy experience with God in the deepest pain as I breathe in and out his presence. When all I had to hold onto was his presence and his promises, I discovered that he was and is more than enough.
God Works in Our Waiting
The psalms also showed me what God was doing in my waiting. They pointed me to the goodness and grace of God as the psalmists put their hope in him even when everything was falling apart. Sometimes I’ve received what I was waiting for, and the psalms have taught me to look back with gratitude for God’s kindness. Other times, God has not given me what I asked for, and the psalms have taught me to be equally, if not more, grateful for how God met me and transformed me.
At times, I have mistakenly assumed that nothing is happening in my waiting. Yet God works in our waiting, answering both spoken and unspoken requests, molding us into his likeness. He is preparing us for his work and teaching us his ways.
“God works in our waiting, answering both spoken and unspoken requests, molding us into his likeness.”
In our waiting, God is growing our roots. I once transplanted a beloved camellia bush only to put it in a spot with too much sun. It was quickly scorched by the heat of summer. I cut the bare twigs down in the fall, convinced the plant was dead. But over the winter, its roots expanded; what we thought was dead was teeming with life about to emerge. In the spring, green leaves sprouted at the base and our bush came back to life.
That’s a picture of what happens in our waiting. Life looks dormant on the surface, but God is strengthening and expanding our root system to tap into his streams of living water. When we turn to God, we become stronger and more confident in God because of our wait.
More Than the Morning
Finally, the psalms taught me what I was waiting for. I was not waiting for a particular outcome, though I initially thought so. I was waiting for God himself. At first, I was waiting for clarity or direction, the answer to my questions and an outcome for which I had long prayed. But just as Job discovered, the answers to my deepest questions were found in the person and character of God himself.
While we wait, we are not just biding our time, hoping that life will eventually change. We’re putting our hope in the one who will never disappoint. We wait for the Lord, hope in his word, and watch for the morning.
I learned so much about God through seemingly endless dark years as I watched for the morning. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” but my weeping lasted more than a night, more than a thousand nights, before I saw the night slowly give way to dawn.
At first, all I wanted were glimmers of light indicating my prayers were answered and the wait was over. I was waiting for the outcome I wanted, or at least for an indication of where life was headed. Was life going to get better, or would it continue to deteriorate? Would I get what I’d earnestly prayed for, or would God’s answer be no? I wanted to know which outcome to put my hope in.
That’s when I learned that my hope wasn’t in an outcome. It was in God alone. I needed to trust in the goodness of God and lean into him as I waited. I wasn’t watching and waiting for the morning; I was watching and waiting for God.
As Surely as the Dawn
That realization brought profound change in me. The night was still pitch black as I learned to wait for God more watchfully, more attentively, more expectantly than watchmen wait for the morning (Psalm 130:6). Before sunrise, watchmen see shadows dimly in the receding darkness that become clearer and clearer as the night turns into day. They are looking closely, attentive to the details. And they have no doubt about the outcome.
“Can we wait for God and be satisfied in him alone without insisting on the outcome we want?”
All the psalms echo this earth-shifting revelation. We are waiting for the Lord. For God alone, our soul waits in silence. We wait patiently for the Lord. What we wait for is certain. As Hosea 6:3 says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
So as we wait, we can ask ourselves:
Can we be still and know that he is God when everything in us wants to fix the situation?
Can we embrace the present moment, with its suffering and sorrow, its pain and imperfections, or are we just waiting for our problems to disappear?
Can we live with uncertainty, trusting that God is doing something in what appears to be an empty silence?
Can we wait for God and be satisfied in him alone without insisting on the outcome we want?
The psalms are songs of hope. Not hope that our situation will change immediately or even in this life. But hope in the God who makes all things new, who cares fiercely and tenderly for us, and has all of eternity to show us what he did in our waiting. Our hope will never disappoint because it is not in an outcome but in the living God. Our hope is in him (Psalm 39:7) and from him (Psalm 62:5), and we wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7), more than watchmen wait for the morning.
He will always come to us. As surely as the dawn.
Christmas and Our Longing to BelongBy Gerrit Scott Dawson — 4 months ago
A young Scottish man left his coastland home and went to sea. He left quickly, without family closure. His wanderlust made him heedless of how such an abrupt departure might hurt his parents.
One cold winter night, his ship sailed north into a fierce and freezing headwind. The gale drove the boat perilously close to a rocky shore. As a pale sun rose, the ship was so near the headland that the young sailor could see the fire in the hearths sparkling through the windows of the few houses on the cliffside. Suddenly, the lad recognized his own home! Then he recalled it was Christmas Day. His parents would be by the fire, talking of the son who was gone, “a shadow on the household” festivities. “A wicked fool” he felt himself to be, as his very proximity to his childhood house heightened his distance from his loved ones.
Robert Louis Stevenson concludes his story-poem “Christmas at Sea” by saying,
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold, Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
Yearning for Home
Like no other time of year, Christmas stokes this home fire in us. The season ignites the hope, no matter how cynical we have become, that we may sit joyfully around a table with people we love and have it feel right. In spite of the disappointments, arguments, loneliness, and distorted dynamics, something in our heart stubbornly grasps the memories, no matter how fleeting, of feeling deeply known, accepted, and safe. We distill these moments to the magical tastes of joyful love. Every Christmas, we’re hoping to savor another drop. But it’s a daunting quest.
“Since we forfeited the garden, humans have been pierced with a home-longing.”
Since we forfeited the garden, humans have been pierced with a home-longing. We leave home looking to find home. Yet it always seems to elude us. It’s never the same if we go back. Our own new relationships still leave us with the ancient yearning. The Welsh use the word hiraeth (hee′-ryth) to describe the powerful, unassuageable cry for home. Hiraeth evokes the stab the roamer feels upon at last arriving back: this isn’t it. There’s yet a farther shore more home than even this cherished place. We can dream of it, but we don’t know how to get there.
I’d like to suggest this Christmas that we allow this hiraeth to draw us to the manger. For there our true Home arrived to gather us back. He who is our heart’s homeland took up residence within the broken, ruined land of our lonely exile. The Son of God came to get us and bring us back to communion with his Father and the Spirit.
Follow the Golden Thread
Even as an infant and young boy, Jesus was magnetic to those who longed to know God and see his glory, whether they were shepherds from the nearby fields or the wise magi from far eastern lands. To the eyes of faith, the baby in swaddling cloths was journey’s end. For those early worshipers intuited what they probably could not express: in the incarnation, the eternal Son brothered us by taking true humanity as his own (Hebrews 2:11).
“In Christ, we can taste home now, even knowing we will still pine for a full arrival.”
The child means that the triune God refused to be without us. He wants to be known, related to, and loved back by those who see in Jesus just how utterly he loves us. As Mary holds Jesus close, we stand amazed that the Son of God so joined himself to us. He came to gather us that he might present back to his Father those joined to him by faith. So, from his first arrival, this Jesus was “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). In Christ, we can taste home now, even knowing we will still pine for a full arrival.
Undergirding this astounding event of incarnation is the promise God made to his people from the beginning. Even before we were expelled from Eden, the triune God had planned how to bring us home. From Genesis to Revelation, there runs a covenant promise of steadfast love: “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12). You can follow this golden thread through a cascade of passages (including Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Jeremiah 31:33–34; Ezekiel 37:27; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10; Revelation 21:3). In ever more intimate and redeeming ways, the triune God proves to be our home-maker until finally we dwell directly with him, where there is no more sighing or pain, but only life everlasting in communion.
At Home in Our Hearts
God answers our cry of hiraeth through the centuries with the arrival of Jesus in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4). The Son of God wanted to be with us so much that he took up flesh and blood and “pitched his tent” among us (John 1:14). Each time the news is told and believed, the Holy Spirit pours into a heart a home-cry that now has a name. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6). We get to taste his presence now even as we anticipate our full arrival. It’s as if the triune God says to us, “I am your God, and you are my child. You will come home to me, no matter where you are or what you are going through. For in the end, I make all things new.”
This Jesus, who arrived in our midst at Christmas, grew up to be the man called a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). They meant it pejoratively, but we know it as a precious title of our Redeemer. Jesus, our brother in shared humanity, is yet the friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Because he is also the heart of our own heart. The true home-maker.
This Advent, we can imagine this child, this God with us, and how much he must love us to bring elusive Home down to us. Then, we can pour our hearts more fully into the carols we sing. We can love him more as we worship him more. We can read all the great Christmas texts. We can follow the golden thread of his home-creating promises. We can be moved to offer him the Christmas present of our enthusiastically wanting to keep his word day by day. These are the ways into a magnificent promise Jesus made: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Our Homecoming Song
The hiraeth will cry for home through us all our earthly days. But when we know where that cry directs us, our pining does not leave us bereft. For we know we have a friend, our brother Jesus, who has secured our passage home. His Spirit sings through us right now. The hiraeth is a homecoming song and unites us to our fellow travelers in a communion deeper than we may ever have known before.
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man! Home has come into the ruin and opened the garden to us once more.
Two Kinds of PastorsBy David Mathis — 4 months ago
Some churches plant “staff-light.” That’s what we did in early 2015.
Our mother church sent us out with four founding pastors, all of us working full-time jobs elsewhere. The arrangement gave us remarkable flexibility in our first year. Our ongoing costs were very low — essentially just renting a high school auditorium, buying bread and wine for weekly communion, and providing the lead planter with a modest stipend (since he shouldered more responsibility than the other three).
However, as we grew, we soon realized our fledging church was developing needs that four unpaid pastors were struggling to cover. We needed at least one of us to put aside his day job and be our first full-time paid pastor — that is, make it his breadwinning vocation. We needed at least one man, at this stage, to give his primary work time and attention to our young church for it to be healthy. Thankfully, the risen Christ provided. And in time, as the church has grown and needs have changed, we’ve received additional staff pastors to fill out and strengthen our pastoral team.
Three years after we launched, a dear sister church of ours planted “staff-heavy,” with three founding pastors, all paid. It was a financial load to carry at launch. They were more strapped for funds than a staff-light model, but their young congregation received unusual deposits of pastoral time and attention. They’ve made it too. And along the way, Christ has added to their number non-staff pastors to fill out and strengthen their pastoral team.
“Most churches discover, in time, the need for a healthy blend of both paid and unpaid leaders.”
Whether staff-heavy or staff-light initially, most churches discover, in time, the need for a healthy blend of both paid and unpaid leaders. The nature of the church lends itself to needing both in due course — not only plants and young churches, but also older and more established congregations. Even churches with staff-only polities learn to lean heavily on key laymen who come to function in various pastoral capacities (even if they’re never called “pastor,” “elder,” or “overseer”). In any case, these pastor-teachers, Ephesians 4:11 says, are gifts from the risen Christ for the good of his church: “he gave . . . the shepherds-teachers.” And these gifts come in two basic kinds.
Some Paid, Some Unpaid
Search the New Testament, and you will not find two types of pastor-elders according to function (that is, say, teaching versus ruling). But you will find two sources of pastoral revenue (from the church or from other work) and, with it, comes the greater or lesser investment of time and energy. All pastor-elders feed (teach) and lead (govern), but some give part (or all) of their revenue-generating “work life” to the church, while others formally “labor” in vocations outside the church. Both can prove vital to healthy churches in the long run.
We should clarify that, in the New Testament, pastor = elder = overseer. These are three names for the one lead or teaching office in the local church (flanked by a second, assisting office called “deacon,” Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8–13). Elder is the same office often called “pastor” today (based on the noun pastor or shepherd in Ephesians 4:11 and its verb forms in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2). This same lead office is also called overseer in four places (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–2; Titus 1:7).
Within that group of pastor-elder-overseers, we find “two kinds of pastors,” we might say. Two texts in Paul’s letters in particular, both leaning on the words of Christ, establish the categories for these two types of leaders: some paid, some not.
Laborers Deserve Their Wages
First, leaning on Jesus, Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 9 a “right” for other gospel workers to receive pay (while not claiming it for himself, which is vintage Paul). It’s fitting that a tentmaker construct the argument; neither Christian maturity nor love insists on its own rights, and so Paul lays out the case for others, for pastors in his day and ours. He writes, “The Lord [Jesus] commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Where did Jesus say that? We have it in Luke 10:7 (and Matthew 10:10): “the laborer deserves his wages.”
In the second key text, Paul quotes the same words again (alongside Deuteronomy 25:4) in 1 Timothy 5:17–18:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Observe carefully, because this is often missed, that the distinction among elders here is labor, not teaching. Paul does not say that all elders “rule” but only some teach. Rather, the emphasis is labor, that is, in context, working full-time or making a living as elders. We know from elsewhere that ruling (leading) and teaching (feeding) are the two main tasks of the pastor-elders (1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:12). All elders rule and teach, but not all “labor” at this calling, as Paul makes plain in the explanation that follows: “For . . . the laborer deserves his wages.”
What Is ‘Double Honor’?
What, then, is this “double honor” that is especially for those who labor (that is, professionally) at the ruling and teaching work of pastoral ministry? “Double honor” means both (1) the honor of deserved respect as faithful leaders and (2) the honor of deserved remuneration or payment for the work. (From this second sense, we get the word honoraria.)
Good pastors are worthy not only of the church’s respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13), but also of financial support, and especially if they are doing this labor and not other breadwinning work. Paul’s language here is precise: being “considered worthy” means some elders may receive pay from the church and others not. Neither he nor Christ require that all pastor-elders be paid (or all unpaid), but he does establish a principle that is applicable to churches and pastors everywhere.
First Timothy 5:18 argues (“for”) that it is justice, not kindness or mercy, for a church to “doubly honor” its pastors with both respect and remuneration. Some will receive that right and bless the church through their willingness to give their work life (“career”) to the church’s needs. And others, like Paul himself, will forgo that right and bless the church by supporting themselves (and the church) through labors other than pastoral ministry.
In this healthy mix of both paid and unpaid, staff and non-staff pastors, we want to keep two truths in mind — truths that correspond to the two functions of pastor-elders in the New Testament.
All Pastors Lead and Feed
First, all pastor-elders are teachers. “Able to teach” is at the heart of the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications, and the culminating assertion of the Titus list. The Christian faith is a teaching movement, and its leaders are teachers — equipped, eager, and effective teachers — or the church languishes.
All elders are teachers — feeding the congregation through teaching in its various forms and settings — but some labor at their preaching (literally, “word”) and teaching. (We might here permit a practical distinction between teaching and preaching, such that some elders, while manifestly teachers, may not gravitate to preaching. Healthy churches need far more teaching than just a weekly sermon.) All elders teach, but not all labor full-time at pastoral ministry. The point is the amount of labor (and thus necessity of remuneration), not a division of gifting among the elders (as if some were able to teach and others not).
As this works out over time in the life of the church, it is often those who labor as a career in pastoral work who are most equipped through formal training, and have the time to adequately study and prepare, who therefore often carry more of the teaching and especially preaching demands. But this doesn’t mean that non-staff pastor-elders are not teachers. (If they have no interest in teaching, or no availability for it, then they are simply not good fits for the church’s lead office, which is a teaching office. But, if qualified, they may serve well in the assisting office, that of deacon.)
“Teaching remains at the heart of the pastoral calling, paid and unpaid.”
Teaching remains at the heart of the pastoral calling, paid and unpaid. And let this also be clear: the pastors are called to more than teaching — to overseeing, governing, prayer, and other critical aspects of local-church leadership. Pastor-elders are not only teachers but also overseers who do more than teach, yet without letting their teaching take a back seat. Such are the tensions we live in for this age. On the one hand, pastors should not give in to carnal pressures to do a thousand other tasks than preaching and teaching. On the other hand, it is naïve to think they can only preach and teach. Pastors are called neither to a thousand tasks nor to one alone.
But at the heart of the elder’s calling is teaching, whoever writes his regular paycheck.
Time and Attention, Not Gifting
To be sure, “laboring” outside the church doesn’t mean not laboring at all in the church through teaching and leading. But it does mean less labor.
Because good teaching and preaching make for emotionally difficult work, and require training and study and careful preparation, and because teaching is central to the pastoral calling, it makes sense that often paid pastors do more of the teaching (and perhaps especially the preaching in the context of worship).
However, we also observe that the paid pastors (because it’s their day job) do more of all the work. They also provide more oversight and contribute more the day-in, day-out aspects of the leading (“ruling”) in the life of the church. So, yes, it will often be the case that the paid pastors, who pastor for more hours, also do more teaching. However, correspond as it may, it would be a mistake to coordinate paid ministry with teaching and unpaid ministry with mere ruling.
The distinction, then, between two kinds of elders is not “gifting” but time and attention. An unpaid elder may be more “gifted” as a teacher than a full-time paid elder. Either way, as a pastor, neither is relieved of teaching or ruling. Paid and unpaid leadership may make for two kinds of pastors, but only one office of pastor-elder, and one pastor-elder team.
Paid and Unpaid Gifts
In the end, we see that both paid and unpaid pastor-elders are gifts from the risen Christ to his church. And he has his own particular blend for varying seasons in the lives of his churches. From my limited vantage, I doubt churches will thrive in the long haul with all their pastors paid (or all unpaid, for that matter). Given the nature of the church, pastoral teams function best, over time, when composed of some wise blend of both paid and unpaid leaders.
In the good times, the more staff pastors, the better. They are Christ’s gift to his church in giving their full-time work life and primary labor and energy to the church and its mission.
However, especially in leaner seasons, when there is tension within the church or even within the staff, the more unpaid pastors, the better. Because these men do not draw their livelihood from the church, they can be a stabilizing influence in conflicted times and (depending on the structure) less personally and vocationally beholden to the lead pastor. So too, when seasons of transition come, and paid pastors transition (particularly a senior leader), the balance of unpaid pastors can contribute greatly to stability during change.1
It is an amazing gift to a church when a man is willing, and eager, to give his life’s work, his “career,” to full-time Christian ministry. And it’s also an amazing gift that a man, in another line of work, would give himself to sufficient training and equipping, and then give many of his evenings and weekends (and often important moments during the work week) to unpaid Christian ministry.
Both kinds of pastors are gifts from Jesus to build and keep his church.