(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] An article from which the chapter is drawn can be read here.
Satan does not have free rein in the world and even less so in the family of God. Therefore, in our struggle with suffering, it will never be a sufficient comfort to say, “It is of Satan and not of God.” The only genuine comfort will come from acknowledging that the all-powerful God has done it and that he is infinitely wise and infinitely loving to those who trust Him…. The afflictions of a Christian minister are designed by God to achieve the comfort and salvation of his flock… (139).
[God] ordains the suffering of Christian ministers for the application of [Christ’s redemption of the church]…. The fabric of a pastor’s life will be laced with dark threads of pain. But on the other hand, it means that every affliction he must endure is designed not only for his own good but for the good of the flock. Our suffering is not in vain; God never wastes the gift of pain (Phil. 1:29). It is given to His ministers as he knows best, and its design is the consolation and salvation of our people (140).
[Therefore] our afflictions prepare us to do the one thing most needful for our people—to point them away from ourselves to the All-sufficient God (141).
The Christian pastor will not expect to comfort or save his people except by following the Calvary Road (142).
Once, as I was preparing to attend a special service at my church, a fellow preacher visiting my home at the time was observing the outfit I had picked to wear. He suggested that my choice of suit, shirt, and tie combination was quite ordinary, and most inappropriate for the occasion. In his comments, he said the following: “Your outfit must exude power. You always must exude power before your people.”
What a contrast such thinking is to the New Testament’s view of church leadership: We are to exude weakness. Portraying to my people that I handle every trial with a smile of sure victory, that any challenge coming toward me is like an unstoppable object heading toward an immovable object, or that any personal pain cannot touch me is not helpful for the formation of Christ in them or me. They must know that I enter suffering in weakness, wholly dependent on the power of Christ, and that trials are given to me, their pastor, in part for this very purpose. Through Christ’s dealings with me in troubles, they need to know that Christ understands and serves their pains, sorrows, failings, sufferings, discouragements, and disappointments.
Weakness is not something that is honored in the world. Weakness on behalf of others completely cuts against the grain of achievement, control, self-sufficiency, and victory. What corporate CEO would say his suffering of a million dollars net loss in his company’s fourth quarter earnings is for the benefit of his mangers and board members? Instead, he might be inclined to put spin on his role in the company’s loss so that he might not seem like a poor, incompetent, or weak leader before his people.
Shepherding is different. Weakness that gives way to dependence on Christ is part of what must be experienced and revealed so that our people follow our example of embracing Christ’s suffering for them. Instead of portraying that we chew nails for breakfast, we should portray that there are times when we feel nailed with our Lord in our sufferings. In this way our assembly’s hope is in Christ crucified and not in man deified.