What do my people need in 2021?
Challenge. Crises. Concern. Change. Those were some of the words that marked the year 2020. Indeed, it was a challenging year for all of us, wherever we were in the world, and whatever were our particular circumstances. However, by the grace and goodness of our Lord, we are now at the beginning of 2021. We can either keep looking back, or we can choose to look forward. I find it helpful to follow Paul, paraphrasing what he said to the Church in Philippi: stop looking back and keep on looking forward, knowing that we have a great future and reward ahead of us in Christ (Phil. 3:12-14). But what should we expect in 2021? As I met with the Church family for our end-of-the-year business meeting, I said that my verse for this new year will be Prov. 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
With that as my guiding thought, there has been one major question over which I have pondered for several weeks. “What do my people need from me during this next year?” Having the immense privilege of being the Senior Pastor, I feel the weight and the opportunity that this position grants. I am not worthy of this position by myself, but called as I am by the LORD to it, He qualifies me to carry out this role. By His grace and for His glory alone, I want to fulfill my pastoral responsibilities in a way that is honoring to Him and helpful to those He has placed under my care. In this edition of The Contact, I aim to lay out briefly the answer to the question that I pose above. Dear ones, please read along with me and, with a prayerful spirit, ask God to guide and direct our activities as a church community during this next year.
There are four things that come to mind as I formulate a response to this question: “What do my people need from me in 2021?” The first thing is Leadership. To lead is to walk ahead of, while at the same time walking alongside those God has placed in the flock that I am to shepherd. Feeling the burden of that responsibility, I know that I must follow the example of the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4), and have Him lead me as I lead others to Him. Biblical leadership must be empowered by the Spirit of God and guided by the Word of God. This type of leadership seeks the well-being of others, leads people to the truth, and lifts up those who are fallen. Leadership sets an example to follow, as Paul did when he called on his readers to follow him even as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Cor. 4:19; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6). I am convinced and challenged that the folks of EFC need Leadership over this next year.
The second thing they need is Openness. Being open is challenging to an introvert like me. I desire privacy and my nature is to keep to myself. However, the LORD has placed a burden on my heart that my people need to see my openness to the LORD and transparency in my walk before Him. This is both frightening and challenging. There is no perfect human being, save One, and He is our example in all things. That said, the sheep need to see that their human shepherd is open to the LORD and honest about who he is. They need to see that I am willing to do whatever He commands and go wherever He sends. They need to see a model of dependency upon the grace of God in all that I do. Therefore, I need to be open with my flock as to my own hopes, dreams, aspirations, failures, weaknesses, and needs. I ask you to pray for me that I grow in Christian maturity in this area.
The third thing my people need is Vision. Biblically speaking, vision is direction that is led by the Word of God, under the power of the Spirit of God, for the purposes of God, and leads to the glory of God. When the Bible talks about vision, it is not so much an idea that begins in the human mind as it is a clear declaration of what is in God’s mind. In other words, vision comes from knowing the Word of God. Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Vision here refers to a proper understanding of the Word of God. Those under my charge need me to be a man of the Word of God, who will not only teach the Word carefully and faithfully, but will also direct his own life and ministry according to that Word. When that is lacking, people do not often know how to walk as a community of believers in the ways of God. They need biblical vision to do so.
The fourth thing my people need is Encouragement. Barnabas was referred to as the “son of encouragement” in Acts 4:36. My challenge is to be a “Barnabas” to those in my congregation. Encouragement could take the form of a word aptly spoken, a pat on the back that lift one's spirit, a text message that arrives in a timely manner, or a phone call that is strategically placed. It could be a necessary correction gently given, a timely word of advice or comfort, or a friendly smile and nod of the head. But whatever form it takes, encouragement is something that is needed by all of us at one time or another. My flock needs to see me growing as an encourager, which includes edification – building someone up in the faith, and exhortation – challenging or instructing someone to walk with more maturity on the path of truth and life. They need me to be a “Barnabas” to them in 2021.
If you look at these four words: Leadership, Openness, Vision, and Encouragement, they are all things that need to be supplied and empowered by the Spirit of God. They are divine works which require divine provision. Now take a closer look at the beginning letter of these words. What do you see? L-O-V-E. The things that my church needs are those empowered by love, which flows from the heart of God. In Col. 3:14, after Paul has given the Christians in Colossae a list of Christian attributes they should be manifesting, he concludes with this: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In 1 Corinthians 13, in the midst of ongoing struggles in the Church of Corinth, Paul tells the believers there that love is greater than all, because love endures forever. God wants all of His Children to be people of love. If that is the case, then I need to be a man of love, a pastor of love, a brother of love, because the fruit of the Spirit is love (Eph. 5:22-23) and His Spirit dwells within me.
As I look forward to 2021, and as I look at what I sense God is telling me to do, I feel greatly challenged. My people need from me Leadership, Openness, Vision, and Encouragement. That means that I need to grow in LOVE. Will you join me in seeking His face so that this happens in an ever-growing manner in 2021? I humbly ask that you pray for me even as I pray for you. I believe that God is ready to do great things in and through us this next year, but we do well to listen to His voice, obey His Word, and do things His way, for His glory alone, and for the good and the well-being of our church. I love the LORD, and I love this church. My desire is to see His hand manifested in our midst more and more in the months to come. Please join me at His throne of grace and pray that this comes to pass.