Yesterday was one of the highlights of my life as I was installed as pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. Although it’s been almost six years since I left my beloved congregation in Stornoway, and although I truly love my work training future pastors at Puritan Seminary, the desire to pastor a local church has never left me, and at times I’ve felt almost bereaved through not having a flock to care for.
Although having the care of souls again is a heavy burden, it’s also a blessed burden, a sanctifying burden, a humbling burden, and a happy burden. I feel so privileged to be asked to shepherd precious souls again, especially in this church that I’ve come to love over the years. The godly, faithful and loving elders and deacons remind me so much of the office-bearers I was privileged to serve with in Stornoway.
Free Reformed Church Elders and Deacons
My friend and colleague, Dr Jerry Bilkes, preached a wonderful installation sermon on James 5:19-20.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
His theme was “The Shepherd of Souls” and his main points were:
- The Target: Erring and wandering souls
- The Manner: Truth, Love, Humility
- The Reward: Converted souls, Souls saved from death, and Covering of a multitude of sins.
At the end he dwelt on the easily over-looked phrase “Let him know,” and powerfully applied it to the congregation, encouraging them to let the pastor know when the Word has been blessed to them.
Dr Joel Beeke delivered stirring and encouraging words to me and the congregation. Elder Pete Vankempen welcomed me on behalf of the congregation and also read greetings from absent friends, including Maurice Roberts, William Macleod, and my parents, which was a bit of a tear-jerker. But perhaps the most special experience of the day was Pastor Al Martin’s charge to me, an outline of which is below.
This was especially touching and memorable for me because of the huge influence that Pastor Martin has played in my own spiritual growth and pastoral training. Just after I was converted, in my early twenties, a friend started pumping Al Martin tapes into me. These tapes were my spiritual milk (and meat!) and had a profound impact on me in these early and hyper-teachable days.
Then, 18 years ago, on the first day in my first congregation (Lochcarron, Ross-shire), the first thing I did in my study was start listening to Pastor Martin’s series of lectures on pastoral ministry. I listened to these twenty or so lectures many times and I still have highlighted index cards full of notes which I still consult. These Bible-rich lectures really set the tone and character of my ministry and the plentiful common-sense practical advice saved me from so many mistakes.
Never did I think that I’d get to know Pastor Martin, and certainly would never have imagined that he would be giving a charge to me at an installation service in a congregation that we are both now a part of! God truly is full of amazing, beautiful, and humbling surprises.
PASTOR AL MARTIN’S CHARGE TO THE PASTOR
1. Thanks to the consistory for the invitation to bring a brief word on this very wonderful occasion of the installation of Dr. David Murray as one of your pastors.
2. Since we are told in Ephesians 4:11 that it is our risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ who himself gives pastors and teachers to his church, we are privileged in this gathering today to witness the hand of Christ stretched out to us presenting such a gift to this congregation.
3. Much that I would like to say on this blessed occasion must be passed by so that I may say the things I believe I ought to say within the constraints of the time allotted to me.
4. In the next few minutes, I invite you to consider with me two things – first of all, we shall consider “A Special text For the Shepherd, and secondly, “A Special text For the Sheep.”
I. A SPECIAL TEXT FOR THE SHEPHERD—Acts 20:28
A. The SETTING is clear–Paul’s leaving and leadership passing to the elders
B. The SUBSTANCE is concise–
1. As Paul brings his own ministry to a conclusion, he now lays upon these elders the task that will be the theirs, namely, to take heed to themselves and to all the flock of God that is among them.
2. The word rendered “take heed” means to pay close, careful, and constant attention to something. The two things to which such attention is to be given are identified as “yourselves” and “to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.”
3. The use of this verb in the imperative form and the order of those things to which these elders are to give this close, careful, and constant attention are THEMSELVES first of all, and then to all the flock. One man of God stated the truth this way “he who is to take heed of others must first take heed of himself. Be clean your self before you try to cleanse others. Be taught your self before you try to teach others. Be light your self before you try to give light to others. Being nearer to God your self before you attempt to bring others near. So Paul did, so he bade these elders do, and that pertains to you.” (Lenski on Acts, p.846)
4. This same man of God, commented on the fact that these elders are not only to pay close attention to themselves, but constant, close, and careful attention to ALL the flock. He wrote “Paul binds every sheep upon the hearts of these elders. “All” not merely the pastor’s friends, a faction he has allowed to form that clings to him, the well-to-do, neglecting the poor and the unassuming. The true Shepherd knows no dividing line, no factions, loves every sheep, especially the week and the needy. The lambs as well as the sheep-how often these are neglected! If your heart is not big enough to embrace “all the flock,” it is not big enough to shepherd any of the flock. (Lenski on Acts page 847)
5. In a very special way, the shepherd is to take heed to the flock with the view to performing the manifold tasks which a shepherd fulfills in relationship to his flock. The verb rendered “feed” is a weak translation. The verb chosen by the Holy Spirit means nothing less than fulfilling all of the tasks of a shepherd toward his sheep. By allowing the Scriptures to interpret this analogy, we come to the conclusion that the tasks of a shepherd are comprised of knowing the sheep, feeding the sheep, guiding the sheep, and guarding the sheep.
C. The SUPPLY of grace is adequate.
1. As this same apostle who lays this responsibility upon these elders contemplated the work of the ministry he issued an agonizing cry in the words “who is sufficient for these things?”
2. Well, he answers that question in the very setting of this passage, in verse 32
II. A SPECIAL TEXT FOR THE SHEEP –READ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
God has not only clearly revealed to Shepherd’s their task, but he has also revealed to the sheep under their care their responsibilities with respect to how they relate to their shepherds. In this particular text, there are three distinct things which God requires of the sheep who have the privilege of being led by good, godly, and competent shepherds. They are:
A. The sheep must understand and embrace the nature of the God assigned tasks of their shepherds
In this passage, a threefold task of the shepherds is highlighted
1. They LABOR diligently for your spiritual well-being
2. They wisely and graciously seek to GOVERN and guide you
3. They faithfully and fearlessly ADMONISH you.— Another servant of God described admonition this way: “admonish quite literally means “to put in mind” and usually carries an implication of blame attached, calling attention to faults or defects. It is the activity of reminding someone of what he has forgotten or is in danger of forgetting. It may involve a rebuke for wrongdoing as well as a warning to be on guard against wrongdoing. It directs an appeal to the conscience and in order to stir someone to watchfulness or obedience. Another remarked, “while it’s tone is brotherly, it is big brotherly.”
B. The sheep must understand and discharge their responsibilities to their shepherds
1. They MUST KNOW AND APPRECIATE THEM them
2. They MUST ESTEEM THEM HIGHLY IN LOVE for the sake of the work done for them
3. They MUST DO ALL WITHIN THEIR POWER TO MAINTAIN A CLIMATE OF PEACE in which the shepherds can carry on their manifold tasks.