A salute to pastors

In this Year of the Pastor I honor the memory of Pastor D. S. David, a servant of God whose ministry molded the lives of many in India.

John M. Fowler is an associate editor of Ministry.

As a boy I was impressed by the enormity of my Anglican pastor: in size, in authority, and in status. He was the leader of the community. Politicians sought his advice. Educational leaders invited him to their functions. Businesspersons paid him due respects. For his flock, his word was the law. When he stood behind the highly elevated pulpit, I couldn't help being struck with the awesomeness of "him up there and us down here." In the first 12 years of my life, never once did I shake his hand or see him visit our home. Distance defined pastorhood for me, fear and deference our relationship.

But then came an experience that changed my concept of pastor. A young and dynamic Adventist preacher pitched a tent in our mining town, not far from Bangalore, south India. He preached a gospel that was strange, frightening, and hopeful. Strange because we had never heard such biblical preaching before. The Bible leaped alive before our eyes. The books that we had never opened before confronted us with a message that history is meaningful, and that life is not the poet's "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing." 1 Daniel and Revelation moved out of a mysterious apocalyptic zoo into a loving, caring, relational gospel that told us God is in control of the direction of history, including my own.

His preaching also frightened us out of our lethargy. To hear him tell us that we live between verses 13 and 14 of Revelation 6, or to watch him portray that three angels of Revelation 14 were flying over our town that very night, or to come to grips with ft a message of the impending return of Jesus and our account ability in the judgment hour was indeed frightening.

The absolute conviction with which he preached and the certainty with which he sounded the biblical trumpet drove me to repentance.

While the onrushing crisis created fear, "fear not" was the main thrust of his message. He placed hope as central to Christian proclamation, and that has remained the principal affirmation of my philosophy of life ever since. Hope in Jesus of the cross. Whatever this pastor preached, the cross was always there--to save, to challenge, to comfort, to live. He liked quoting Luther as he spoke of the eternal assurance of the cross: "When the merciful Father saw that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by any thing, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: 'Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.' " 2

He was a proclaiming pastor.

When this Adventist pastor came to our town, his preaching did cause quite a stir. But more than his powerful exposition of Scripture, his pastoral style left an indelible impression on youth. Prior to his arrival in town, pastorship was marked by distance, thunder, and anonymity. The pastor had his world, his job, and we had ours, and seldom did the two meet. But not with this dashing young pastor. He was a man for all seasons, a parson for all people. To him, visiting the parishioner's home was as important as mounting the pulpit. As a teenager I looked eagerly forward to his visits. He came when my mother was ill. He came when my friend's father had an accident. He came when there was no particular reason. He sat with us on the floor, around a kerosene lamp; opened the Bible and gave some of the most cherished studies I have ever heard in my life; sang songs with us; eagerly answered our questions ranging from biblical mystery to theological nonsense; and ate what little we had or what he himself had brought to share.

He was a people parson. The sick, the poor, the unjustly molded clay of this earth, the children--these were part of his caring passion. But then he also reached out for the other side of the human equation the Nicodemuses, the Corneliuses, the Priscillas, and the Aquilas of our community. He embraced all of us, and He became a part of us. He believed that the "Lord wants men to forget themselves in the effort to save souls. Our life is worse than a failure if we go through life without leaving waymarks of love and compassion. . . . God's workers ... are to bring into their efforts the goodness and benevolence and love of Christ." 3

He was an incarnational pastor.

Three years after my first encounter with this pastor, I entered the final year of my high school, and became eligible to enroll in the school's debating society. On one occasion the quarterly debate focused on the issue Is honesty the best policy? Just turned 15, and at the peak of intellectual arrogance not uncommon to that age, I registered for the debate. The auditorium was filled with faculty and students. My four opponents were brilliant students, all of them open agnostics, and particularly antagonistic to Christian values. They argued their points well and showed the dilemma of moral uprightness in a society of hypocrisy and corruption.

When it came my turn to speak, I had a simple argument to put forth: History vindicates that moral uprightness is a possibility in a polluted environment. And I spoke of Jesus, my recent discovery. Then I turned to Gandhi. Someone from the audience heckled, "You are talking of gods and saints. Tell us about people." Instantly, I burst out, "Yes, I know of someone in our town." And then I named my pastor. A few in the audience who knew him clapped their hands. I didn't win the debate, but to a teenager and to his fellow church members, here was a pastor who was a model--morally and spiritually. Tough in standards, tender in compassion, generous in giving, stingy in self-indulgence, quick to forgive, going the second mile, our pastor exemplified that love that "brings with it its own secret joys, and desires no other reward." 4

I finished high school with a state scholarship to go for engineering or medicine or any other profession. And when my father asked what I planned to choose, I answered without any hesitation, "I want to be like my pastor." "The proper authority of spiritual leaders," writes James Means, "lies in their spiritual authenticity, the validity of the Word of God, and the ministry of God's Spirit demonstrated in their lives. Good spiritual leaders have enormous ethical power as models, instructors, and guides." 5 Such a spiritual example was my pastor.

He was a modeling pastor.

If his parishioners perceived him as a model, he himself looked upon his ministry as a means of service and nurture. No one who ever attended any of his services--be it a midweek prayer meeting or a Sabbath worship service or a cottage devotional came--away with out a transcendental charge from God and His Word. He was a diligent student of the Bible and a believer in the bended knee. That combination ensures both power and passion, and with that He nurtured his church well.

Climbing the ladder of hierarchical power within the denominational structure was never his pursuit, but when he did receive an invitation to be the secretary of the union, he found it was natural to use that office to strengthen evangelism and nurture in unentered areas. Administrative duties did not diminish his enthusiasm for the pulpit, nor his fervor for the pastoral call. Was it Shelly who said that "power, like a desolating pestilence, pollutes whatever it touches"? Well, the pestilence never hit my pastor, for he tempered power by servanthood, and he never let executive leadership tempt him away from his primary commitment to God and His people. He never forgot his ordination oath that he would be a shepherd and a servant first and foremost.

He was a servant pastor.

Young he came, and young he died. Thirty years after I first met him, it fell to my lot as a minister to lay my pastor to rest until the dawn. In this Year of the Pastor I honor the memory of Pastor D. S. David, a servant of God whose ministry molded the lives of many in India. Even as I do, I thank God for our valiant pastors around the world whose ministry, marked by proclamation, in carnation, modeling, and servanthood, touches and shapes the lives of so many every day, not just for now but for eternity.

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John M. Fowler is an associate editor of Ministry.

May 1993

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