This post originally appears in the October 2021 issue of Mature Living Magazine.
Every week I write a column encouraging pastors. I always begin, “My Dear Shepherds.” Here I write to you on behalf of the pastors who are your shepherds.
My Dear Flock,
You may not realize how much you mean to me. Like any family, we’re used to each other. We take each other for granted. We forget to say what’s important. But you are my people, and I love you.
I am your pastor — your shepherd. I care for your souls. In fact, I may think more about your souls than you do. When I’m at my best, my most Christlike, I try to discern how healthy your hearts are. When you’re ill, for instance, I wonder if your faith is withering. If you’re forgetful, I want to help you remember Jesus. I love to see how He has become to you “sweeter as the years go by.”1
I don’t mean to complain, but being a pastor is harder than I ever imagined it would be, hard in ways folks who aren’t pastors seldom understand. Sometimes God’s people can be so difficult. Plus everything about pastoring matters so much. It all seems so heavy. Sometimes sharing the burdens of my flock makes me sad or frightened, yet I need to be brave and strong for you. Then there’s the devil, always lying, always harassing.
Often pastoring is so hard because of me. It’s unsettling when someone calls me “a man of God.” You don’t know just how messy I am, yet at the same time, it seems so many of my flaws are obvious to everybody. My weaknesses and sin take a toll on my family and on you. I don’t always know how to live authentically, and I don’t always know whom I can talk to safely. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ is harder than I ever imagined when Jesus first handed me the shepherd’s staff.
But oh, the privileges of pastoring! I hold tiny hands, dedicating those little ones to Jesus, and I hold the withered fingers of the old as they let go of this life. People say to me, “I’ve never told anyone this before … .” I never get over the fact that I say, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” and it becomes so! At gravesides I say, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” entrusting saints to Jesus and leaving an awful silence over those who rejected Him. I’m privileged to hold the cup before you and say on Jesus’ behalf, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”2
You give me the time and place to talk with people about Jesus, to pray with them, to help them discern the Lord’s will. I get to teach you the Scriptures — one-on-one, in small studies and classes, and from the pulpit. By the astonishing help of the Holy Spirit, I open the Bible, and you see Jesus there, like the two disciples meeting Him on the road to Emmaus. And I get to pronounce your birthright over you: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”³
Keeping watch over our flocks by night is what shepherds do.
Sometimes shepherding is a slog, and it is often lonely, but keeping watch over our flocks by night is what shepherds do. I worry about you, you know. I worry about the sheep who have wandered off, especially our kids. I watch for wolves. I ache when my people disobey Jesus’ most important command, “Love one another.”4 I confess that occasionally I say with old Pastor Moses, “What am I to do with these people?”5
But still, you mean more to me than you know. I pray for you, though not as well as I should. I love seeing Jesus in you. I get so excited when you want to grow in Him and serve Him. I just love Sunday mornings when we can be together — hearing you sing, enjoying your laughter in the foyer, seeing our children. I’m so grateful the Lord plucked me, for no good reason but grace, out of that procession of upward bound saints and told me I was to be a pastor. Your pastor.
I love you.
Note: October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Perhaps you’ll want to write a letter in response to your pastor’s love.
LEE ECLOV retired from local church ministry after 40 years
and now serves as a writer and speaker. He is the author
of Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls, and
Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family
1Lelia N. Morris, “Sweeter As the Years Go By” 1912, Public Domain
3Numbers 6:24-26, NIV