Watching on the wall

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 33:6, NIV)

Here is what I worry about. I worry that God really means what he said to Ezekiel and that we pastors are bathing in the blood of those we do not warn.

I guess in question form to my readers, this worry goes something like this: What are the stakes of what we do as pastors?

I get the impression sometimes that the stakes are not very high. What we do might make people’s live a little easier or even help them cope with serious problems. But, in the end, God will sort it all out, and, hey, he’s a loving God so no worries.

And then I read John Wesley or Peter Cartwright or watch this video of Paul Washer — who despite being a Southern Baptists talks about repentance, justification, and assurance in exactly the ways Wesley did — and I hear men who take the warning of Ezekiel with deadly seriousness. It is interesting to note that all three men are/were itinerants.

I read Eugene Peterson’s wonderful books on being a pastor, and I struggle to find a place where he speaks about the gravity of the work. There is something winsome about everything he writes and, it seems, being a pastor is a winsome thing as well. No blood crying out against us that I can find.

I read Adam Hamilton’s books on how preaching the gospel is like selling shoes and I wonder how heavy he feels the burden of those who do not buy it all? I read his book on the Bible, and wish he had written about this passage in Ezekiel — or the others in Scripture. I wonder what he thinks about the warnings.

I read all these books and think of the pastors I have admired, and I wonder how heavily they feel the burden that God placed on Ezekiel or the admonishment of James that teachers will be judged more strictly.

I think of even casual encounters I have with people with spiritual questions. Do I take them too lightly? Do I let me desire to be likeable get in the way of my calling? Do I even know what to say — how to sound the proper warning?

These questions get to the nature of the pastoral vocation. And for me the starting question is this: What are the stakes in what we are doing as pastors?

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10 thoughts on “Watching on the wall

  1. John, Great post. I am not a pastor; but I do teach adult Sunday school and youth. Reading James 3:1 drives me to prayer and care to be sure that I do not lead any astray or give reason for any to go astray. (See also Matthew 18:5 & 6.) In addition to Ezekiel 33:6, which I might shrug off as only applying to prophets, there is much in the New Testament that makes me take very seriously my responsibilities for the souls of those I teach and influence.

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