Quite recently, however, I started to learn what it means to be a "minister" as opposed to a "preacher". My early experiences as a pastor were major disasters because of my status as a "novice" combined with total ignorance as to what it means to minister to God's flock.
Most of the N.T. references to "minister" in the King James (usually rendered "serve" in the ESV) are instances where Paul used the word διακονέω (diakaneo)--the same word from which "deacon" comes, and with the same import: servant, serving. Interesting to muse on the weakness of the King James there in that it has allowed countless readers, myself included, to consider "serving" something done by the deacons whilst us preachers carried on nobler work.
My preaching for years, after my pastoral failures, took on a drive-by approach. Preach at 'em and run. Let the Holy Spirit finish the message....No one-on-one contact, no involvement with individuals. God has been changing me with regard to this over the past few years. I had a couple of very influential experiences recently and as I was mulling them over, I received this quote from an internet source I subscribe to:
We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to "offer" something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Those words, even upon an eighth or ninth reading, still affect me like a slap in the face (deserved, too). "...clerical condescension choking on pious words...." Ouch!
Two experiences in the past 10 days reinforce the lesson Bonhoeffer teaches: 1.) In our Tuesday night Bible study at a prison, my brother Elvis is teaching through Matthew. We got to chapter 19 which begins with the discourse on divorce. This is a sensitive area for inmates, particularly Christian inmates. Most are divorced. Most have been subjected to the preaching and teaching of the modern-day Pharisees and often condemned to Hell because of their marital mess. The believers are broken over their past sin and infidelity and divorces. As we got into that reading, God gave me the chance to minister His grace to a dozen or so men in a way I have seldom if ever experienced before. I am convinced that He changed lives that evening; that He drew some of His children closer to Himself; that He lifted some burdens; and that Grace became more than a word, became a force in the life of more than one man.
2.) I'm a poor counselor. So, I try to avoid getting into situations where I have to counsel anyone. But.....I got into one, a serious one, and I decided I needed help getting help for someone. I located someone I thought was right for the job and gave him the details and anxiously awaited the much-needed help. What I got was a plethora of platitudes smothered with generalities. My first reaction was: What? Did you not read what I wrote? The response was almost totally irrelevant to the case at hand. Now, I see in the Bonhoeffer quote, what I got was the "clerical condescension," the non-response from a non-listener. He never stopped talking long enough to hear what I was saying, what I needed.
Oh, LORD, I beg you, don't ever let me be like that again. I know I have done that countless times, missed countless opportunities to minister the Grace of Jesus Christ because my mouth was engaged and my heart was closed. Please.....for His great glory, Amen.