Kurt Lammi: An Encouragement for Pastors from Mark 8:34-35


"34 [Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)

These are words we've heard before.  We've preached on them before.  We've told people of their importance before.  But they are still challenging words.  Even for pastors.  Perhaps, I should say, especially for pastors.

We know how hard it is to follow Jesus.  We've committed ourselves to do that.  It's not only our calling as Christians, but it's our profession.  Because of that, we sacrifice plenty of things for his sake and the sake of the people we serve.  We sacrifice sleep when that emergency pastoral call comes late at night.  We sacrifice time with family to go to that meeting we don't really want to attend.  We sacrifice our rest since we don't get to enjoy weekends off like many others in our society.  We feel like we sacrifice quite a bit in following Jesus.

And sometimes, in doing all of this sacrificing, it can feel like we are just losing our life with no gain at all.  There are people we serve who critique us and tear us down.  There are people we love who feel neglected and resentful.  There are others in the larger church who tell us that we aren't doing ministry right.  So we can feel like this whole task of following Jesus, especially in this particular leadership position, is too much to handle.  Sometimes, for example, pastors are called shepherds of their flock.  But it can be very lonely tending these sheep.  It can be stressful when others tell you that you have get more sheep for your fold.  And it can be very painful when the sheep bite you.  You can wonder why you bother doing it at all.  You can wonder why you bear this cross at all.

Yet there is a reminder - and promise - for you, you tired and worn out pastor.  You are not the Savior of the world, and you don't have to be.  Jesus already did that.  He already carried the cross.  He was already crucified on it.  And his life and his death already make a difference.  Yes, sometimes it can seem like they don't make a difference - but, through you, they do.  They really do.

You have committed yourself to following him.  You have gone through discernment and training and education.  On your good days, you know that there is nothing else you would rather be doing.  So, on your bad days, remember that, even though it is a hard road, Jesus walks with you.  Now, sure, you've heard that before and I imagine you've even told it to other people before, but hear it now again for you.  Truly.  Jesus walks with you.  In the midst of your struggles, in the midst of being bitten by the sheep you serve, in the midst of wondering if you can make it, Jesus is still right here with you.  He will not abandon you.  He will not forsake you.  He will not leave you all by yourself.  And he has promised that not even the gates of hell can tear down his church!  If they can't do it, then the conflicts you face certainly can't tear it down either.

Jesus has called you not only to follow him, but to help others follow him.  He has called you to be a shepherd of this particular flock of sheep.  Sure, it may be lonely.  You may feel like you don't get any recognition or credit or affirmation.  You may feel neglected and forgotten.  But remember, it was the shepherds in the field who first heard and proclaimed the good news of great joy about Jesus' birth.  You are that kind of shepherd.  You are an everyday person who, on your own, doesn't have much power and authority - but now, because of the good news of God's love for us in Jesus Christ, you have that power and that authority to tell others about him.

Plus, remember that the shepherd was a metaphor for kings in the Old Testament.  The people then understood that being a shepherd was hard work and not many people would want to do it.  It wasn't a popular role and it didn't get much respect.  But this was how they understood kingship also.  It was hard, not many people wanted to do it, and it didn't get much respect.  But it was vitally important - and the people understood that.  You may feel just like a lowly shepherd - but you are also a king.  You are also a queen.  You have power.  You have authority.  You have dignity and worth and importance.  Not to use in controlling others, but in a leadership position that is of vital importance for the people you serve.

Jesus' promise is for you.  In following him, you are indeed given new life.  So do not fret about the struggles that come to you, for Jesus is by your side.  Do not fret about the sheep who give you problems, for Jesus is still the good shepherd.  Do not worry about whether you are doing a good job at your call, for Jesus still knows that you are the kind of person he wants as a disciple.

What you do matters - and it matters a great deal.  Yes, it is hard.  Following Jesus, and especially helping others to follow Jesus, can be very difficult.  But, in that difficulty, in that struggle, in that cross, there is also new life.  For you and for the people you serve.  Jesus has made sure of that.  You are doing good work, life changing work, life-giving work.  Remember that.  Jesus certainly does.


Kurt Lammi serves as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church on Dog Leg Road in Dayton, Ohio. [www.StPaulDogLeg.org]  He is also author of the book "Bread for Beggars: An Anthology of Christian Poetry." [http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1430301724#] He lives in Vandalia, Ohio, with his wife, daughter, and cat.