Recently a friend of mine was talking with seminary students about the realities of pastoral ministry. In explaining the many ways in which the most sincere pastor can unwittingly offend his congregants, he related a story in which he apologized to a parishioner, saying, “I am not a righteous man. Jesus is the only righteous man.” Each pastor must remember that truth; each congregant already knows it—or should. It was not an excuse. It is a fact.
Hearing that truth as it played out in another man’s life, I nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes these things happen. No, God’s people are not always gracious to pastors. The pedestal is all too real, and we’re not perfect.” So went my inner monologue. But then, not much later, a person in my own congregation pointed out my very real failings and the very real pain my failings had caused.
I wish I could say that the conversation ended with me pointing us both to Jesus, the Righteous One, but we never really got that far. And so I pray, hoping to begin repairing a bridge that I did not know I had burned, trusting that the Good Shepherd has been better to this dear saint than have I.
When contemplating the mystery of ministry—that God uses broken human instruments to spread the fragrance of Christ—the Apostle Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” and he did not need to answer. We are all insufficient, but God reveals His might in and through our insufficiencies to demonstrate that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
I rest in this truth: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The dear saint whom I have wounded has Jesus. And His shepherding never goes awry; His ministry is perfect, and He can and will care for the very hearts that my bumbling hands have wounded.
That is not an excuse. It is a fact, and a blessed comfort indeed.