This summer was a time of reflection and preparation for my family and me in anticipation of my new role as Lead Pastor of Redeemer’s East Side congregation. I have been humbled and truly overwhelmed by the support and encouragement we have received.
Perhaps most moving was discovering that the East Side prayer team invited the entire East Side congregation to commit to praying for us for 100 days as I began as their pastor. So, on the one hand, this is a sincere thank you to so many of you for your kindness and affection. On the other hand, this is also something of an invitation. Let me explain.
My first years of pastoral ministry were spent serving in the Korean immigrant church. It was a wonderful community of remarkable people. I still remember arriving at church very early on Sunday mornings (usually to finish up the sermon!) and the kitchen would already be full of women who had gotten up at some early hour to prepare a full Korean lunch for the several hundred people who would come through the doors of the church that day.
Meanwhile, the men would be cleaning the bathrooms and setting up tables and chairs in the reception hall. Even the children would be pitching in, neatly wrapping silverware in paper napkins and placing them carefully at each table. Even before I, or any of the other pastors, got there, the church was very much alive and active, transforming empty space into nothing less than home.
In addition to this vibrant hospitality, the Korean church was also a community of honor. Pastors were held in such high regard. We were often given seats of honor at meals. (I can’t tell you how many times I was invited, indeed forced, to cut in line to get food, even though I was going for seconds!) Congregants would be outraged, in fact deeply offended, if a pastor offered to pay for a meal at a restaurant. From medical care to dental work to dry cleaning, the people would go out of their way to honor and serve their pastor and support him in his ministry. So, where am I going with this, you nervously ask?
While there was so much that I think the Korean church got right, I’ve come to realize that here was one thing that I think it may have gotten wrong. Of late, I’ve come to realize that the church doesn’t exist to serve the pastor, to support his ministry and volunteer for his programs. Instead, it is the pastor who exists to serve the members of the church and to support them in their personal ministries — both inside and outside the church. Ephesians 4:11-12 say this: “And he [Jesus Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
It is so easy for us to get this backwards. Pastors aren’t called to receive the support of others to run their ministries. No, pastors are called to give support and equip others as they are sent out into the city with their own personal ministries and vocations.
So what’s the invitation? It’s this: as I begin my new ministry on the East Side this month, would you join me by beginning your new ministry this month as well? I don’t know what that is for you. It might be entering into your current personal ministries in the church, your home, neighborhood, network or workplace with a renewed sense of calling and energy. For others, it might mean approaching particular relationships with a new intentionality, being public about your faith in Christ. For some, this idea of every Christian having a ministry might be new. In that case, it might mean simply beginning to volunteer somewhere with the church as a first step to identifying what your own personal ministry to the city might be. Whatever it looks like for you, I invite you to join me as we start our new ministries together. The body of Christ and the flourishing of the city will certainly be the better for it.