Testimony to my task

I am a pastor. Not by choice, but because God called me. There is no way I can abandon my call, even though I have tried.

Don Reiber pastors the Heppner and Condon, Oregon, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

I am a pastor. By this I don't simply mean that I'm ordained and carry ministerial credentials in my wallet. Within our church organization we have many administrators, departmental secretaries, evangelists, educators, treasurers, book center managers, et cetera, who are ordained and carry ministerial credentials. These are part of the ministry, but in the true sense of the word they are not pastors. A pastor, like a shepherd, lives day by day among his flock, leading and feeding them, encouraging the downcast, binding up the wounded, and seeking the straying.

I'm not a pastor by choice. God called me. It's a special calling, distinct from other tasks clustered under the ministerial umbrella. To underscore its distinctness, Paul lists it separately in his catalog of gifts (Eph. 4:11). I often wonder why God should call to this task one so short on wisdom and so long on foolishness as I. But He did. If I were not convinced of this within the depths of my soul, I would not, and could not, carry on. For those who share this calling, no further explanation is needed; for those who do not, no adequate explanation is possible.

The call to be a pastor defies clear definition and precise description. I sense it, I feel its inner compulsion; but I can't state it as I could a mathematical equation. Perhaps the strongest reason I feel I've been called to be a pastor is the emotional and mental trauma I've experienced when tempted to abandon it.

And Satan has seen to it that I have been sorely tempted to do so. The picture he paints of quitting is done in appealing colors, a replica of the one he painted for Christ in Gethsemane. In dark moments of frustration he whispers, "Why go on? Your members aren't practicing what you're preaching. They don't lack knowledge; they just aren't living up to the light they already have! What have you got to show for your efforts? The negative footdraggers throw a blanket on every plan; the sharptongued guardians of 'the truth' drive people away; the flapping-tongued gos sips keep stoking the fires of turmoil. You'll never satisfy that troublesome elder; he'll keep on writing the conference president, giving his distorted version of matters. Why not leave it all behind?

But as the joy of anticipated harvest sustained our Saviour in the darkness of Gethsemane, so the joy of anticipated harvest sustains me in my dark moments.

I know that the easy way out, as painted by the devil, is an illusion. He connives to dicker me out of my pastoral birthright for a mess of his pottage. When I've seriously considered abandoning this call from my Lord (and I confess to having done so), a chilling loneliness creeps within. I sense a nameless dread.

So I hang on, trusting that the problems that drive sleep from my eyes, and the frustrations that sap my strength and courage, will, by God's grace, make me a better pastor. He will strengthen me to "spend and be spent" (2 Cor. 12:15), even though it sometimes seems that the more I love my flock and labor for them, the less they love me.

As Christ stands between His Father and humanity, so I stand between administrators and my parishioners. I am to bridge the gap. I'm expected to implement policies and promote pro grams, but this is not my major task, nor am I accountable primarily to the conference president.

My major task is to lead my flock into an experience with Christ that will transform them into dynamic, glowing, growing Christians. This will impel them to share with others what God has done for them, what He is doing within them, and what He desires to do through them. For this I am accountable to God alone. To the degree that I succeed, the policies and programs will have flesh and sinew. Otherwise they will scarcely be more than clanking skeletons.

As a pastor I may not enjoy the prestige administrators enjoy, nor have the aura of glamour that clings to evangelists. Yet my task is more important than either. In fact, of all the positions on God's team, mine is the most important.

No matter how sound and wise the decisions and plans of administrators may be, they will remain unfulfilled if I fail at my major task. Evangelists are largely dependent for success on the preparation I and my flock have made. (I'm not leaving out the work of the Holy Spirit. I'm simply referring to the human aspect.) The long-term gains from an evangelistic effort likewise depend largely on me and my flock, how we nurture the new lambs brought into the fold. Our school system will function effectively only so long as I succeed in transmitting the importance of Christian education to my people.

These are reasons why I feel that my task is the most important. I say it, not boastfully, but humbly, awed by the responsibility that is mine.

When our returning Lord asks, "Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?" (Jer. 13:20), His words will have particular force for me.

So will His words "Well done."

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Don Reiber pastors the Heppner and Condon, Oregon, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

January 1983

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