I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” posts).
In a general session address, Mark Dever spoke about the endurance needed for quality pastoral ministry. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.
Mark Dever is a favorite pastor, author, and speaker of mine. His talks are not always the most thrilling, since he can sometimes sound quite dry and stiff in his delivery (a style I prefer over sappy emotionalism). That said, his content is always very weighty and thoughtful, and his messages are, therefore, quite powerful. After I hear him speak, I always come away sensing that he prepared intentionally and thoroughly. Because of his attentive preparation, he will often have at least a few pithy zingers in his messages. In his message at T4G, on the great need for pastoral patience and endurance, Dever came out with this one early. He said, “We are told that numbers never lie. Brothers, numbers lie all the time.”
Because numbers, therefore, cannot be our measurement for success or failure, we must look to something else. Dever spoke of the general difficulty of quantifying success in pastoral ministry. It is quite unusual for any pastor to feel successful, because spiritual growth is often not perceived quickly enough to observe the progress that does occur (either in himself or in his congregation). Dever went on to explain how there can be great joy experienced in the pastorate if one will maintain proper perspective.
Dever contrasted “spotlight joys” with “elder-chair joys.” The spotlight joys, Dever described, are fleeting and unreasonable expectations. Numeric results are up to God, important stuff takes time in Scripture, and the Great Commission has been in force for 2,000 years. These were among the statements Dever made in order to bring clarity to perspective and to detract emphasis from “spotlight joys.”
He went on to lay out several, more meaningful joys, which he called “joys of the elder-chair.” Dever spoke of the joy of resting in the sufficiency of Scripture. This joy emphasized the need of every pastor to find ultimate rest and trust in the power and competence of God’s Word. The pastoral responsibility is too great to bear upon natural shoulders; a pastor must lean himself on God’s Word and trust that it will uphold all who do the same.
He also spoke of the joy of seeing people converted and the joy of knowing congregation well enough to see them grow, and each of these emphasized the pastoral relationship with others. Dever offered heartfelt examples of his own joys in watching the assembly sing the praises of Christ, hearing others preach better than himself, and waiting together on the promises of God. In an uncharacteristic show of deep emotion, Dever recounted what great joys he has known in these ways.
There were a few other elder-chair joys mentioned, but I found the whole presentation to be extremely helpful. While I know these things, and had considered them at various times before that day, it was refreshing and inspiring to hear them arranged in this way. The systematic account of these joys was a help as I considered where my own ministerial joy is being found.
Assessing my current ministry, I am regularly leaning on God’s Word as a sufficient foundation and structure for all of ministry and life. I am also engaging with at least some in my congregation on a level that does afford me the opportunity to watch them grow, and they are able to do the same with me. At the moment, I am investing myself into some men who may be able to preach alongside me (or even better than me), but we have yet to arrange for or overtly encourage that platform.
However, I do notice a tendency in my own heart to want to measure success by worldly and/or tangible standards. Yet, I pray that God will help me possess a proper perspective in my everyday ministry so that I will be able to count these joys articulated by Mark Dever as my own over time.