It’s been a while since I’ve written and I did have some thoughts bubbling away on more encouraging topics.
Then last month I turned on the news to see another high-profile celebrity Christian Pastor who had fallen.
I’m not intending to make any specific comments about the case (though I certainly have plenty of thoughts!) – but it got me thinking about this internet age in which the rise of celebrity pastors is ramping up. With easier access to sermons, podcasts, and various other streams online it got me reflecting on the nature of pastoral ministry and what is lost when you just simply watch someone on the screen or listen to them on your daily walk.
So, I turned to a tiny little letter from the apostle John – 3 John. Reading it over in the light of all the bad news about pastors failing gave me not only a renewed sense of my duty but also encouragement that I think we all need to keep in mind. While it is not meant to be read as a ministry manifesto, I can’t help but see 8 duties of a pastor in this little letter.
My first duty is to love you in truth (v1).
 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. (ESV)
This is the first and biggest difference between the pastor online and your local church pastor – your local church pastor knows you. It’s been an immense privilege and pleasure to know many of the people in SLE Church personally – and my affection for them is not just rooted in experience over time but also in the gospel truths I see at work in each of them. My love is compelled not merely because I like them, but because of the gospel I want to see at work in each of them. And I count it a rich joy that I can remember with great affection wonderful personal gospel moments in their lives.
My second duty is to pray for their health and souls (v2).
 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (ESV)
I’m not just a spiritual caretaker, but someone who deeply cares about the whole of your life. The celebrity pastor online might preach really well – and let’s be honest, probably 10 times better than Ben or I – but we know our people personally and pray for them personally. And our prayers are not just for their spiritual health – though this is of eternal significance! We also care about the day to day life of injury, sickness, recovery, births, deaths, and marriages.
My third duty is to rejoice! Especially that the people I minister to are walking in the truth (v3-4).
 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (ESV)
We all stumble at times and I am no different. My joy as a pastor is to be there to help them keep walking and persevering in loving Jesus, their families, and each other. Sometimes that involves hard conversations, probing questions, rebuke and exhortation. Sometimes it will involve tears, but ultimately it will be for the purpose of realigning life to being in harmony with Jesus and not in self-directed living. And when that happens, wow, there are few greater joys!
My fourth duty is to encourage partnership with gospel-centred and gospel-minded people (v5-8).
 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,  who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.  For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.  Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (ESV)
I don’t have my hand across all the ministries that exist in the world, but I do know the ministries and missionaries our church supports – and the ministries I encourage others to support or engage with. The church is not an island, and I’m increasingly convicted at how much partnership exists across the New Testament. For SLEers, there will come more opportunities to hear about these soon, and trust that is part of my duty to encourage this!
My fifth duty is a difficult one – to lovingly point out the wolves who may be in our midst (v9-10).
 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (ESV)
I have yet to do this with particular individuals in our gathering, and I pray that I will never need to. But the bad example of Diotrephes warns us that there may come a time (inevitably?) when you will hear someone criticise your pastors, or other gospel ministries, unfairly. We will need discernment as to the truths of any criticism and a willingness on our part to address them. And we also need to pray for courage to call out those who continue to put themselves first.
My sixth duty is thankfully more positive – to keep pointing you to godly models and examples (v11-12).
 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.  Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. (ESV)
This encouragement is that we’ll have an idea of what godliness looks like ‘ahead of us’ – those who are older, wiser, a bit further down the track of this marathon race that we are all running.
My seventh duty isn’t so much a duty but a deep preference: to see you face to face (v13-14).
 I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink.  I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. (ESV)
I’m thankful for technology, and while I think Zoom and our Youtube Livestream have their place, it is MUCH BETTER to see you in person. We are created beings made for relationships with each other.
My final duty is to encourage unity with others and to begin with the assumption that we are friends (v15).
 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name. (ESV)
The gospel shapes us as family, and as friends – so let’s begin there.
Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy listening to other pastors and preachers online, but they are not the same nor a substitute for your local church pastor. We know you, and John has spelled out our duties to you. That pastor you’re listening to online isn’t called to do any of that.
But we are. And it is our joy to do so.
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