A friend passed along something that Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, tells on himself. In an earlier pastorate, a little deacon group who found they could not control the pastor decided to fire him, and called a church conference for that purpose. Pastor Jeffress and his wife gave the matter to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to show one way or the other whether they were to leave or remain at this assignment.
In the meeting, after the deacons leveled their charges against the pastor–it was penny-ante stuff, Dr. Jeffress says–the moderator invited the congregation to speak. A small elderly woman stood to her feet and walked toward the front. Asked if she wanted to say anything, she said, “No. I’m just going to stand by my pastor.”
At that, another person rose and silently walked to the front and took his place on the other side of the pastor.
One by one, across the sanctuary, people got up and walked to their pastor. Many went to the microphones and testified of the blessed ministry Brother Jeffress had had in their lives. For a full 45 minutes, the congregation overwhelmingly affirmed his ministry.
The ringleader of the movement to oust the pastor finally said to the congregation, “I never realized how out of touch I was with the sentiment of this congregation. You will never hear another word from me.”
Within a few weeks, every one of those deacons and their families had left the church.
And–do we need to say this?–after they departed, the church grew and the ministry flourished.
Stand by your pastor.
“(Jonathan’s) armor bearer said to him, ‘Do all that is in your heart. Turn yourself and here I am, with you according to your desire” (I Samuel 14:7).
Jonathan had some daring plans, one that included risking his life and the life of his steadfast armor-bearer by taking out a nest of Philistine warriors. A lesser individual would have said to this young courageous prince, “Are you out of your mind? Just the two of us? Take on that bunch?”
Jonathan had just uttered one of the great testimonies of faith in Scripture, one which many leaders in our churches do not believe and will think you (the pastor) are crazy to posit: “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”
It really doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He gives a great victory by a few people or a crowd.
And yet, we modernists, surrounded by our mega-churches with their zillion-dollar programs, seem to think the Lord has to have a crowd, and “our little church can’t do anything because we’re not big.”
God, forgive us our fears. Our unbelief. Our cowardice.
The armorbearer–how I wish we knew his name! He is likewise a champion–was worthy of his assignment, to stand with Jonathan and fight alongside him. (Scholars tell us we should not think of an armor-bearer as an assistant simply toting a shield. A full-fledged warrior in his own right, in many respects the armor-bearer was every inch the equal of the soldier whom he served.)
A few moments ago, when she heard the story of the elderly woman who said, “I just want to stand by my pastor,” my wife Margaret said, “Yea, grandma!” and made a fist. I completely agree.
God, raise up deacons and other churchmen and women as the pastors’ armorbearers…..
–the pastor being the “point man,” he is exposed, always vulnerable, always at risk. The target is drawn on his back.
–a faithful armor-bearer will stand by him at all times, particularly during the crisis times.
–the armor-bearer will equal him in courage.
–they will fight the same battles, although each in his own particular way.
–the armor-bearer will make sure the pastor is not blind-sided.
–invariably, the “Jonathan,” the pastor, will be the one who gets the credit when everything goes well and a victory is won. No one even knows the armor bearer’s name. Can you handle that? (Your answer says volumes about your maturity in Christ.)
The armor-bearer has your back, pastor.
This unnamed champion said to Jonathan, “Turn yourself, and here I am.” To my complete disappointment, only the New American Standard Bible contains this statement. Every other translation and paraphrase I consulted simply gives the short-hand version of the statement, making it read something like: “You can count on me” or “I am with you heart and soul.”
“When you turn around,” the young man said to Prince Jonathan, “You’ll find me standing here.”
How good is that!
In the late 1960s when racial strife in this country was at fever pitch, I was pastoring a Baptist church in the epicenter, the Mississippi Delta. One Saturday afternoon, a carload of our men were returning from the state penitentiary where we conducted monthly evangelistic services. I was driving.
As we chatted, I shared with these good brethren that I was receiving pressure to soft-pedal my statements on racism and prejudice. When some northerners in our town to protest Mississippi’s “jim crow” laws indicated that they might possibly worship with our church the following day, the critics exploded. No one knew what would take place the next day or how our people would react if the visitors showed up.
Milton Baxter was riding in the middle of the rear seat. I recall watching his face in the mirror as he said, “Pastor, do whatever you need to. We’ll be right behind you.”
At the time, I made a little joke. “I don’t want you behind me. I want you on the front line beside me!” And we laughed.
But Milton was right. The pastor is the point man. The best the deacons could do would be to stand behind me. And in truth, that would be enough.
(The rest of the story is that the group in question never showed up and gradually some of the worst racists in the church softened and even repented. Not all did, but enough to encourage a young pastor. Milton Baxter went on to become prominent in educational circles in our state.)
Church members sometimes expect the pastor to be such a man of peace that if he is attacked or criticized, he must be doing something wrong.
And, sometimes unthinking young men go into the ministry expecting the pastoral life to be all sweetness and roses.
They soon learn otherwise if they ever try to do anything.
When that happens, when the pastor takes a stand and becomes a target as a result of his faithfulness–let the faithful of that church–men, women, children! deacons, officers, the young and the elderly!–walk to the front and take their stand around the man.
They don’t have to say a word.
In doing so, they send a signal to the troublemakers that this is God’s man and we support him. We are all in this together.
Blessed is the pastor who has such a group of courageous armor-bearers.