Whenever the church leadership comes up with policies that are “good for the church”, it seems inevitable that they will fall most heavily on the pastors (although, the church leaders themselves manage to avoid bearing the burden. Funny, that.)
From Elijah, to Chrysostom, the pattern is the same. The troubler of Israel, the faithful preacher is driven out for the comfort of those at the top. Luther notes how miserably most pastors live in his own day – A sign of how much the Word of God is despised. And Jesus says that the faithful will be killed by those in the church who think they are doing service to God by their actions.
In our own day we have Candidate Status – the very word is enough to make the palms of faithful pastors sweat. But, we are assured, we need such things. It’s really for the good of the church. Toss another pastor into the woodchopper, and move along, there’s nothing to see here. Just making the church gooder.
So, why do it? Why do men even bother to enter the holy ministry? Well, most aren’t told of the cost before they enter. Never discount the power of misinformation. We study the parts of scripture about Sacraments and Justification. We skip the parts about “if they hate you, know that they hated me first.” And while we tell them that they will suffer, we might skip the bit about who is causing the suffering. (Robert Preus was a confessor who saw his reputation destroyed by the very church that he served and spent years protecting from wolves. Today he is celebrated. His tomb has been carefully whitewashed. Good job, everyone.)
But the more fundamental reason is that sometimes, very occasionally, we get to speak the Word of God to someone. And they listen. They hear and believe the word. There’s nothing else like it in the world. In fact, speaking the Word of God is so awesomely amazing, that it’s even quite the privilege when they don’t believe it – in some ways, even more so.
And through it all, we have the promise that Christ will take the burden from us. That’s not always easy to see when we are being death marched into the wilderness, Chrysostom style, or weeping and in a fetal position in the desert praying for death like Elijah. (And remember, that happened right after the victory over the prophets of Baal.) But the promise is good. Jesus says that the moments when we are ‘gooded’ the most, are the moments we should rejoice. And some days, when church leaders are out there doing their best to make things better for us, that’s all we have. But it’s enough. Satis est, as our confessions say in a different context. Or, as the Blessed Reformator said, (who knew a little something about the help afforded by church leadership) “let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won.” Or, as Jesus himself reminds us, shortly before he was shown some real hospitality by the esteemed churchman of his own day, “In the world you will have trouble. But do not be afraid, I have overcome the world.”