By David Faust
Churches need leaders for the same reason cars need shock absorbers: often the road isn’t smooth, and congregational bumps and potholes take many forms. A leader’s phone may ring with jarring news of a fatal traffic accident, a sudden illness, a marriage in crisis, a suicide, or a community-wide emergency.
Churches need leaders for the same reason buildings need lightning rods: the sparks have to come down somewhere, and they find their outlet in meetings that deal with everything from financial problems to moral failures, from life-and-death issues to petty grievances. Church leaders try to balance grace and truth as they referee interpersonal conflicts and strategize about how to reach their communities with the gospel. Shepherding the flock requires wrestling in prayer, caring for those in need, and protecting the church’s doctrinal integrity.
In 1967 Dr. Thomas Holmes and Dr. Richard Rahe published a stress scale based on medical research showing how stressful events impact health. The death of a spouse tops the scale at 100 points. Among dozens of other stressors, the list includes being fired or changing responsibilities at work, enduring the death of a close friend, and moving to a new residence. Not only must church leaders deal with such issues that occur in their own lives, but at any given moment they know members of their congregation who are going through similar struggles.
The stress points pile up. How can you minister to others when your own problems weigh you down? How can you bear the burdens of others while carrying your own load at the same time (Galatians 6:2, 5)?
God called Ezekiel to be a prophet in the midst of a messy situation. Ezekiel’s assignment required delivering unpopular news. Jerusalem’s idolatry was about to be judged. God’s glory was departing from the temple. Unfaithful leaders would be brought down. False prophets would be unmasked (Ezekiel called them “whitewashed walls”). The Jewish people were headed to exile in Babylon.
To communicate these hard messages, God required Ezekiel to engage in bizarre behaviors like lying on his side for extended periods of time, cooking his food over cow manure, and shaving his head and beard and using the hair as an object lesson (Ezekiel 4:1–5:4). Halfway through the book, Ezekiel endured an excruciating emotional trauma, which he reports with calm resolve: “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded” (24:18).
How could Ezekiel keep his composure while under so much stress? He clung by faith to God’s promises. As
C. S. Lewis observed, faith “is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
The Lord gave Ezekiel a scroll that contained “words of lament and mourning and woe” (2:9, 10) and instructed him to eat the scroll (3:1-3). This strange beginning to the prophet’s ministry portrayed the way he internalized God’s truth, taking it in so he could speak it forth. God said, “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them” (v. 4), and Ezekiel obeyed.
Despite the messiness of ministry, Ezekiel faithfully proclaimed God’s Word. He made known the mysteries of God in all their frightening but hopeful, clear yet incomprehensible glory. Because when all is said and done, that’s what weary, wounded messengers are called to say and do.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for November 1, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Peter 5:8-14
Song of Solomon 8:8-14
Lamentations 4, 5
2 Peter 1:1-11
2 Peter 1:12-21
2 Peter 2:1-9
2 Peter 2:10-16