Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Ezekiel is one of the prophets who apparently was not very popular. He couldn’t say he wasn’t warned, though. In Ezekiel 2:1-5, the Lord spoke to Ezekiel very frankly about the fact that he would be rejected. Not only that, but in verse three, God calls the Israelites “rebellious pagans.” Those are pretty hard words for God’s chosen people. What do we learn about the role of those in ministry, based on this passage from Ezekiel?
First, a calling to ministry as a pastor, teacher, or any of the other churchly roles is a calling from God. Though we expect it to be ratified by our church body as a whole and the local congregation in which the minister will serve, it is primarily a call from God. The pastor follows God’s Word. He follows God’s instructions. He has to maintain God’s priorities. It is no kind of a popularity contest.
This does not mean that the pastor should be indifferent to the congregation. After all, God is calling him to be the shepherd of Christ, leading his people to trust Jesus and share with one another in time, talent, finances, and care. Did you ever wonder if you should invite the pastor to your child’s birthday party? The answer is that you absolutely should, but that you should make it clear that no present is expected and that you will all understand if the pastor can’t make it. A good pastor cherishes the opportunities to enter into the lives and interests of his congregants, old and young.
The people of Israel weren’t going to treat Ezekiel that way. The Holy Spirit warned Ezekiel about that. Ezekiel went anyway. He spoke God’s commands to the people, he called them to repentance, he asked them to turn to the Lord for forgiveness. This is a second thing we should take from this passage. Ezekiel’s call was not to be successful in turning Israel. His call was to speak God’s word faithfully, whether it was received or not. In the case of Ezekiel, the Word of God was rejected. Some pastors serve in congregations which will refuse God’s Word. Some missionaries serve in mission fields where they may labor for decades without seeing one single convert. Some pastors, including some I know personally, are called to serve the Lord in places with shrinking and aging populations. They fully expect their church congregations to shrink and age because that’s simply the demographic reality of their community. If the pastor is being faithful to God’s Word, ministering in Word and Sacrament, distributing God’s gifts to any who will receive them, the ministry is not in vain. It is still precious in God’s sight.
Yes, we want all church congregations to be thriving and growing. Every pastor in the world hopes for a steady increase in attendance, for people to be turned from sin to righteousness, and for people to be growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. But Christianity is not a numbers game. It’s a matter of faithfulness. Are we willing to be faithful and to let God take care of the numbers? Ezekiel was.
We learn a lot when we look at the prophets. We learn even more when we let the prophets inform us. May this passage draw us to trust our Lord in his wisdom and grace.
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