“If pastors can’t learn from Jesus, how can they teach others?” Bishop Emeritus Solomon asked pastors who attended the Bible Conference held in Faith Methodist Church, Kuching on 29 and 30 July 2016. The theme of the conference was “Following Jesus in a fallen world”.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon was the Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000 to 2012. Currently retired, he now keeps busy with an active itinerant ministry speaking and teaching in many countries. He has served previously as a medical doctor, church pastor, principal of Trinity Theological College and president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore. Bishop Emeritus Solomon holds degrees in medicine, theology, intercultural studies, and a Ph.D in pastoral theology from the University of Edinburgh.
On the subject of learning from Jesus, Bishop Emeritus Solomon calls for pastors to be an apprentice of Jesus in order not to experience burnout in serving. He talked about the 4Ds experienced by pastors and quotes from Matthew 11: 28-30 where Jesus said:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Firstly, disappointment. Have you felt disappointed when people don’t respond after all the work you have done? Jesus performed miracles in Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, but the people did not repent. Jesus was disappointed and he said that if the miracles had been performed in places like Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, the people would have repented and it will be more bearable for them on the day of judgment. Bishop Emeritus Solomon calls for us to learn from Jesus in the midst of disappointment to praise his father as recorded in Matthew 11: 25:
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
Why did Jesus praise his father? Because his father knows what is happening. Nobody can change God’s will and purpose; God is still in control. Humanly speaking Jesus was disappointed but he knew the Father’s purpose will be accomplished. It is important for us to remember to lift up our eyes to God when we do ministry.
Secondly, dissipation. Bishop Emeritus Solomon said that pastors are too busy. They find their energy level going down, and they seem to be getting so little fruit for their efforts. He quotes Eugene Peterson who said that busyness is not good because it is a sign of spiritual laziness. Pastors are surrounded by people who expect pastors to meet their needs any time of the day. Pastors have no time to chat with their spouse, children, fellow workers and church members.
Pastors who are too busy do not spend time to discover God’s agenda for them. He said that pastors need to focus on what Jesus asks them to do, and they do not need to do anything more. They should also trust and train people to do things for them. What Bishop Emeritus Solomon does, before taking on speaking engagements, is to mark off on the calendar birthdays of his wife and children, and school holidays because he wants to be around his family. He also marks off some time for himself, his mentors and good friends. To him, they and his family are VIPs because he feels inspired after spending time with them. For Jesus, the VIP is his father.
Thirdly, doubt. The beginning of Matthew 11 is about doubt. John the Baptist who was in prison heard the miracles that Jesus was doing, he sent his disciples to ask “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John was the one who said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. To reassure John, Jesus sent a message back to tell him that he was a great prophet. However, pastors cannot share their doubts; they cannot tell the congregation “I’m not sure if God answers prayers.” Pastors also cannot tell the President that they are losing their faith! So when do pastors share their doubts? The best way to deal with it is to go to the Lord, like the psalmist. Ask God, “Where are you Lord? Are you hearing my prayers? Do you see what’s happening to your people?” It is good for pastors to share these struggles in a safe way.
Fourthly, disturbance. Pastors get disturbed by people doing other things while they are preaching, to the extent that it can affect their health and psychological well-being. His own feelings on Sunday evening used to depend on the Sunday service attendance until he freed himself from the response of the people and learnt to care about only what God tells him to. Bishop Emeritus Solomon said, “Sometimes God chooses the most neurotic people to be pastors. Ministry itself becomes a source of healing. By doing ministry, it is not so much of God’s work through us, but God’s work in us.” In Jonah 3, God’s mission field was in Nineveh but in Jonah 4, God’s mission field was in Jonah. It is easier to save the whole of Nineveh than to save Jonah’s heart. According to him, God calls us to serve him in order to rescue us from ourselves.
Bishop Emeritus Solomon explained the significance of the pastor’s white collar in a way that no one else has done before. Dogs behave themselves when their collars are put on. To him, a pastor’s white collar is like a yoke of obedience. He said, “If not for this collar, I would have been a terrible sinner. If not for this collar, my life would be in disgrace. Thank God for this collar because it keeps me in line.”
Bishop Emeritus Solomon ended the talk for pastors with the call to spend time with God, and to learn from Jesus. He asked, “If I’m not learning from Jesus, how can I teach others?” Spending time with Jesus and reading the Bible is more important than reading a lot of books. To him, it is of paramount importance to get a fresh word from the Lord and feed the congregation with fresh spiritual bread. Otherwise, it is like reheating somebody else’s sermon in the microwave oven to serve at breakfast.
Besides the talks for the pastors, the Bible Conference was also attended by Christians from all over Kuching. In these talks, Bishop Emeritus Solomon talked about the Beautitudes, and reminded the audience that those who follow Jesus are blessed because God says so, not because we feel it. He also warned Christians against almsgiving, prayer and fasting as theatre to show off their spirituality. “The unseen father sees what is done in secret,” he said. Besides this, he also brought home the point that the Lordship of Jesus must not only be professed but practised. “Do not be surprised, on that Day, Jesus may say ‘I never knew you’. So obey and do the will of the Father who is in heaven,” he said.
Reported by Ting Su Hie
Faith Methodist Church, Kuching