I attended a pastoral installation last Sunday in Escondido. One of the customs at such events is for area pastors to participate in the laying on of hands while speaking a passage of Scripture as encouragement to the newly installed pastor. I chose that day to sit with my family during the service (I don’t have many opportunities for that), but from the pew reserved for families with small children I remembered the time I was ordained and installed as a minister at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. One of the verses spoken to me by a colleague and mentor that day was Zechariah 4:6:
Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
The pastor who spoke that verse knew well what troubles any person who is deeply involved in Christian ministry: we are called to carry out great things in the name of Jesus, yet have no power to accomplish them.
A book I read recently called “The Imperfect Pastor” by Zach Eswine offered a sobering list of “the fruit that we by our ministries hope to produce” yet have no power of generating on our own.
We also have no power to produce the increasing things. By “increasing things,” I mean the fruit that we by our ministries hope to produce. Don’t get me wrong. We can do meaningful pastoral work among the mattering things, but only God can give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). Jesus teaches us that the power to give salvation is inconsolable as it relates to us. We cannot give people the new birth with God (John 3:3–5). We cannot justify someone, make her righteous, sanctify her, give her adoption, convict her of sin, or change her heart (Luke 19:27; 1 Corinthians 12:3). There is nothing we can do in ministry that does not require God to act, if true fruit is to be produced (John 15:5). Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power.
Indeed. And I believe this is true not only for Christian pastors but for congregations whose members are all baptized into a universal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Everything we rightly wish will take place in the life of our community as we answer the call of Jesus Christ remains outside the congregation’s own power. How excruciating! Our helplessness often makes us rush to conclusions, react in fear, or give up hope. We have no choice but to trust in the grace and mercy and power of our God to produce the “increasing things.”
But remarkably, once we move past our discomfort with helplessness we start to see all the ordinary ways God is already giving the increase. An single woman sings hymns of grace and finds identity beyond her marital status. A little child learns the love of a Savior who values children infinitely more than the world around us. A frazzled parent with no reprieve hears a word of encouragement that their labor is not in vain. Guilt is absolved. Freedom is given. Eternities are changed.
Alongside the seeming weakness of our ministry comes the ultimate helplessness of Jesus Christ that has become the power of salvation for all who believe. This gift never comes by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. Thus says the Lord almighty.