On Sunday, June 26 the Brighton Park Baptist Church of Corpus Christi ordained Scott Britton to the gospel ministry. Captain Ron Fisher, Battalion Chaplain, United States Army and a graduate of Logsdon Seminary at the South Texas School of Christian Studies, preached the ordination sermon. This was appropriate, not only because of the longstanding relationship between the two men, but because Scott is also pursuing a call to military chaplaincy. I thought Ron’s address nailed the challenge of the Christian ministry in all forms and asked him for his manuscript, which I reproduce here.
On occasions such as this, there’s so much that could be said, but then so little would be remembered. So, I’m going to be as brief and poignant as possible.
I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter 5. We’ll start in the latter part of v.1:
“As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”
Peter is appealing to Christians, and in this portion of his letter, a group of church leaders in
various parts of Asia Minor. This evening, I have the privilege of appealing to two Christians who are also two church leaders. Granted, one is being ordained into the Gospel ministry this evening, yet there would be no ministry of any sort apart from the other; two ministers who have proven their dedication and devotion to the person and cause of Christ through years of faithful service, one couple, each of whom compliments and completes the other: Scott and Tosha Britton.
Scott and Tosha, what I feel led to share with you this evening is by no means “new,” or “emerging,” or “radical” but rather something I find to be “forgotten” and “avoided” in the contemporary church and therefore remains “revolutionary.” And so my appeal and charge,like Peter’s, is simply this:
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.” Or “Shepherd the flock of God . . .” as the NKJV states it. Verse 2 is your charge. Let me explain.
I was involved in a Chaplain training sometime back when the speaker, a well-meaning woman, began “preaching” to those in attendance, Chaplains, many of whom were senior Chaplains, about their need to catch up with the times, how they must learn to use social media, blogging, texting, FaceBook, and Twitter if they were ever to hope to reach and CONNECT with today’s generation of soldiers, so on and so forth. Incidentally, I’m not personally convinced that FaceBook came from the Holy Spirit. Anyway, when she finished speaking, an old LTC stood up and said, “Ma’am, let me tell you something . . . every time I walk into the motor pool to speak with a soldier or share a meal in the DFAC with one of my men, or participate in TNG with my troops, I’m connecting. I’m doing ministry, and not while hiding behind a computer screen. That’s “old school” ministry, and that’s who I am. I’m old school.”
Now, I believe we need to get smart on social media and learn how to connect with people through those mediums, but that takes a back seat to what this old chaplain spoke of. So my first challenge to you this evening is this, “Be old school.”
Let me say it another way. I know a lot of ministers and chaplains but very few pastors. If there’s any one trend in the church today that burdens me more than any others, it’s pastors who don’t pastor. There are many “shepherds” who have both been taught and who prefer to do “virtual ministry,” yet these same ministers would never settle for “virtual tithes.” They seem to hope we’ll be wowed by their sermons on Sunday compete with high-speed video vignettes and PowerPoint presentations which may or may not even be theirs in the first place. After all, these messages are proven to “work” and can be purchased online. They don’t answer their phones “after hours,” don’t make hospital visitations or pray for the sick,
consequently, they never see anyone healed. It’s hard to see the sick healed when you don’t pray for them. I’m just saying.
These pastors treat families as “units,” blast their congregations with mass emails, won’t answer the phone when you call and won’t call you back when you leave a message. Instead, they’ll send you a text. Isn’t that expedient? And, somehow, someway, they’ve been taught that this is what right looks like.
They’ve settled on managing programs instead of “caring for the flock that has been
entrusted to their care.”
I charge you to be “old school.” Flesh on flesh ministry. Never send a text when you can make a phone call. Never make a phone call when you know you need to make a visit. The congregation you have the privilege to serve needs to actually hear your voice; they need to see you. Never forget that the presence of a real pastor makes a real difference.
One pastor friend of mine, when recalling that season of life when his father lay dying in his bed, returns again and again to this: “Dad was there in bed, dying, and the pastor would come to the house, come into the room, sit in a corner, and never say a word. It was just what I needed.”
That’s “Old School Ministry.” You don’t attempt to explain away people’s trials; you step into their stream of suffering with them.
Be Old School.
Old School Ministers are approachable, accessible, and available That needs to be you.
Realize that close of business for you is when the day ends. There’ve been times when I’ve just walked in the house, changed clothes, and received a phone call from one of my leaders telling me, “Chaplain, I’m sorry to bother you at home, but PVT So-and-so’s mom was killed in a car accident, and the family is requesting your presence when we deliver the Red Cross message. Can you come back in?”
Never mind, I live thirty minutes away. Never mind I’m tired, haven’t seen my wife or children all day, or that I have to put my uniform back on. Never mind that my day began at 5 AM and it’s now 7 PM and I’m hungry. That soldier is my kid. I am his pastor. When my phone rings, I answer it. This is one of the ways we ministers are to “care for our flocks.”
So find out how the old timers (including the apostles Peter and Paul) conducted their pastoral care and learn to shepherd like them.
But “care” also means “feed.” A pastor must also “feed” the flock. What might this look like? I submit the following five points or “challenges” to you.
1. Cultivate a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, this won’t happen for you apart from the Holy Spirit, so you better get busy about cultivating a vital relationship with the Hoy Spirit.
2. Remain true to your calling. As Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest” (March 4 reading), “It’s easier to serve or work for God without a vision and without a call, because then you are not bothered by what He requires. Common sense, covered with a layer of Christian emotion, becomes your guide. You may be more prosperous and successful from the world’s perspective, and will have more leisure time, if you never acknowledge the call of God. But once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the
memory of what God asks of you will always be there to prod you on to do His will. You wil no longer be able to work for Him on the basis of common sense.”
It’s not common sense to volunteer to join the Army at war, Scottie. Within your first year of service, you will likely be deployed to Afghanistan. You and Tosha better make certain you’re called to this life because it’s a life of hardship for everyone involved.
Well then, perhaps you should just settle to pastor a little church somewhere then? I got news for you: That’s not common sense either! I’d rather be back in Baghdad.
My point to you is this: The call is the anchor. Just make sure you’re called, then stay faithful to your calling. Too easy.
Scott, remember this, if you don’t remember anything else this evening: Tosha must always come before your ministry. Period. She is to come before the girls, and she must come before your men. Now, here’s the catch: You’re not always going to be able to put your family first, but when you can, you’d better. My allegiance is to Christ before Amie but to Amie before ministry. Being her husband, and my children’s father, is part of my call. Apart from them, there is no ministry for me.
Tosha, there is no way Scott will be able to do what is required of him unless you encourage him (sometimes he’s going to need more of a push) and release him to do what is necessary. You’re going to find yourself in his shadow, not because he’s any greater than you are but because the spotlight will be on him. Forget the spotlight. Remember your call as his wife and partner in ministry, and always remember the truth that apart from you, he would have no ministry to speak of.
3. Faithfully minister the Word. Don’t compromise. Compromise is a choice, not a necessity.
The Bible says what it says. I have found that it’s not what people don’t understand about the Scripture that upsets them, but rather what they do understand and are unwilling to submit themselves to that rubs them the wrong way. Don’t apologize for that. Conviction has the power to bring about life change. Compromise can’t do that. Just preach what you heard from the Holy Spirit and you’ll be straight. And, if you don’t hear from the Holy Spirit, then don’t preach at all. This principle has served me well.
4. Be the example, and do the hard stuff. Verse 3 says, “Lead them by your own good example.” The Army doctrine of leadership is summed up like this: Be, Know, Do. Show others what right looks like. You are to be a chaplain before you are an officer, but you are a soldier before you are a chaplain. Therefore, be physically fit. If your men are doing a twelve mile ruck march, don’t go to the gym to hit the elliptical machine. You go rucking. Show them they can’t smoke you. Know the standard, and hold yourself and others to it.
Be a disciple of Jesus Christ first, and a minister of the Gospel second. You are their spiritual leader, so how is a Christian supposed to love and relate to his wife? They’ll be looking to you. How is a Christian supposed to speak? They’ll be looking to you. Be the example. do the hard stuff.
Another way to feed the flock is to:
5. Share in the life and risks of your soldiers. Consequently, this is also one of the ways we watch over our congregations. I joined a patrol one evening and one of my NCO’s said to me, “I’m really rolling the dice tonight, Chaplain.” I asked what he meant and he replied, “This is my second time to go outside the wire. The first time nothing happened, so this could be it.” I replied,
“You know what? I like those odds. I’m going with you!”
“No, sir! You don’t have to do that.”
“I insist. I’m riding up front with you.”
“What if I get blown up?”
“Then we’ll get blown up together.”
Shepherd from up front.