Today as I was rummaging through my hard drive, I stumbled upon an old group photo of the small congregation I helped pastor from 2005-2009.
There were about 50 of us at church that day, and we all sat on one side of the auditorium for the photo. It looks like the photo was taken early on in that ministry—sometime in 2005.
I smiled as I studied it closely. My children looked so small compared to how they look today. Some of the adults I see regularly today looked so young, including myself.
But as I kept looking at the photo, it went from humorous to haunting as I started to count how many people in the photo are no longer alive. These were not the oldest ones, either.
For one, our daughter, who is sitting in the very front in her wheelchair with a huge smile, would die in her sleep at age 8 in 2008.
Dave, our preaching Pastor, would die of cancer in 2011, just a few months after being diagnosed in his mid 50s.
Joyce, one of our dear older saints, would go to heaven in 2009 after a decades-long battle with infections she contracted after a terrible motorcycle accident in the 60s.
Many of the people in the photo now live in different parts of the country. Pimple-faced kids in the picture are now in college and doing great things.
The photo tells a compelling story about the brevity and transience of our time on earth. But more than that, it is a chilling reminder of the urgency and the weight of what it means to be a Pastor.
How would Pastors preach, teach, counsel and love with more passion if they viewed themselves—and their people—as being on the very brink of eternity?
Far too many of today’s Pastors are out to impress people with their intellect, amuse people with their wit, and shame people with their man-made hobby horses. They have little sense of the urgency or the weightiness of life, death and eternity.
The world needs more Pastors who are dominated by a sense of God’s holiness, their helplessness and Christ’s power alone to awaken the dead. Broken, tearful pastors who have tasted the grace of Christ, and are humbly extending it to those in their care. Pastors who completely give themselves to the Word they teach, and who are themselves being transformed by it week after week. Pastors who passionately study and know the Bible, and who believe in the Holy Spirit's power to change hearts far beyond any great anecdote or illustration can.
I was in the room with some 3,000 other Pastors on April 13, 2006, when Dr. John Piper preached the best sermon I have ever heard about this matter of the urgency and the weight of preaching. I keep this sermon on my iPod, and have listened to it countless times since that night. Tears stream down my face every time I listen to it. I will carry those 52 minutes with me for the rest of my life. I'm telling you, there was something going on in that room that night.
Stories abound of men in that room with me, whose lives were changed permanently when they heard that sermon. Some moved to distant mission fields where Christianity is a crime, and have suffered great loss as a result. It is a sermon that has reverberated with gospel-spreading power in the hearts of countless Pastors.
In lieu of quoting the entire sermon here, I will leave you with this quote:
“God planned for his Son to be crucified, and for hell to be terrible, so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell. That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers.”
Pastors, preach, teach and love your people like there’s no tomorrow. They may not be with you after today.