If anyone has suffered for his faith and faithfulness, it was Paul. Who can forget the list that he gave to the Corinthians? “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger of rivers, danger form robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure,” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27, ESV). Most of us will never experience these moments in ministry (and those are just the ones we know of for sure as legend tells us how he died at the hands of Nero).
Paul describes the church in various ways, but there are two main ways in which he describes the church: the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. Both of these descriptions have at least one thing in common: their need to stay connected. Thus, the church is connected to Christ and to each other. Which is what James 5:13-20 is all about: staying connected. We must stay connected with God, with elders, and with each other. It is foolish to think that we, as Christians, can survive without each other. We need each other. Not in some trite way or as some cliché, but in a survival way. We must be connected.
I have been pastoring for 18 years (with about a year’s stint that I was without a church) and in that time have pastored four churches. My first pastorate was in a small town and I was asked to leave because in this very segregated southern town, I wanted to evangelize to those who had more melanin than the people in the congregation. After that my family and I moved up to Indiana, just outside Chicago, and pastored a church, where—once again—I was asked to resign. This time for doctrinal reasons. I had come as an almost Calvinist and settled the issue while there (while one gentleman kept calling me a heretic), became an amillennialist, and then a complementarian. That was too much doctrinal difference, and in my hubris youth, I did not see it. Both of those experiences, however, were very painful for me and my wife. There was much weeping over those two experiences.
I’ve been writing small group curriculum for my church for the last 18 months. The curriculum aligns with and supplements our current sermon series. Because our pastor is (thankfully) committed to preaching expositionally through various passages and books of the Bible, we don’t pick and choose what passages are comfortable and easy to address, we deal with whatever issue, topic, or difficulty the Scripture brings us. Because of this, there have been times where I’ve had to write on subjects that I’ve felt I had no room to speak into. Many of the studies I’ve written have been the overflow a hypocritical and broken heart.
I recently saw a twitter post by Matt Smehurst, a writer for the Gospel Coalition, stating that Satan doesn’t tempt us by asking us to believe in him, but rather to put full belief in ourselves. I read it not as Matt asking us all to hate ourselves (which would be unbiblical), but rather reminding us that our ultimate trust has to be put in God and his Word, rather than in ourselves. I filed it away as a good sermon illustration and moved on.
So I was very surprised a few days later when I saw another writer I follow on social media, who is not a Christian, forward a screen capture of Matt’s original statement with the comment, “Satan sounds like a pretty great guy,” attached.
It is often expected for the pastor to visit his congregation, especially if that congregation is relatively small. He is expected to go, chit chat, give advice, pray with, etc. with most or all members of his church throughout the year. Whether or not this is a fair expectation depends on the size of the church and other demands on the pastor. But I quickly want to deal with a different type of pastor visit. While many are worried about making sure the pastor visits, very few if any are worried about who’s visiting the pastor.