The Nobility of Office

Of Donkeys and Noble Steeds

Thanks for joining us at Greatheart’s Table.

Since my plan is to publish on the first, second, and fourth Monday of the month, there will (probably!) be no installment released on May 17. I say “probably” because I’ve enjoyed doing this and could see myself just plowing on through. Nevertheless, you can for sure expect to hear from me again on the 24th of May.

In this post I’d like to consider how people look at us as pastors compared with how Scripture speaks of us. It is Scripture of course that should shape our self-assessment, but, well, I know we listen to those outside voices a bit too much. So pull up a chair as we consider the “Nobility of Office.”


Pastors in the hands of negative opinion

Mark was a friend who pastored a larger church in a different denomination. We would occasionally meet for conversation and an early cup of coffee. One day we talked about a man who had for a while attended my church but who was then, as happens in the church, attending his. Mark had finished preaching the previous Sunday when this man greeted him at the back door of the church, handed him a book, and told him to read it as soon as he had a chance. The book was one on how to preach.

Such is the respect that pastors sometimes get.

On another occasion, a member of my church wanted to compliment me on something I had said in a sermon. She said, “You did a lot better at that than you normally do.” Luckily none of the comebacks that have come to my mind since occurred to me then. I thanked her and left.

Such is the respect that pastors get.

We pretend our pastoral skin is thick, but it’s not. Even back when the local pastor might have been one of the best educated and wisest persons in town, that did not guarantee respect. Jonathan Edwards was a brilliant theologian and an effective preacher, but when he became a pastor in the hands of an angry church, he lost his job.

Such is the respect that pastors get.

We sometimes therefore prefer to engage with people without their knowing what we do. The other night I was chatting with one of the servers at our local Burger Fi. Noticing the Michigan State t-shirt I was wearing she asked what had brought me to Florida. The simple answer to that question is that I came to Florida to be a pastor. But what does she think of pastors? Would our conversation die if she knew? Since most people’s perceptions of “pastor” are not positive, I thought of simply saying, “My job.” But I told her the truth, and she dropped the conversation.

Sadly, most people don’t trust pastors to be honest and ethical. In surveys of this criteria pastors find themselves swimming among the lawyers and used car salesmen at the middle and bottom of the lists, with doctors, nurses, and grade school teachers sitting comfortably at the top.1 Given the behavior of some pastors, I understand this. But it reflects badly on the lot of us.

Donkeys and Noble Steeds

It’s therefore important for us to see the different story Scripture tells. Paul, in his letter to the young pastor Timothy, reminds us, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”2 A noble task. That’s what we’re about. Our work is noble. It’s honorable, good, worthy, and important. Scripture, at least, sees our calling as noble, as worthy of honor. (As do, I should add, those sitting faithfully in the seats before us Sunday after Sunday and who invite us into their lives.)

It has a profound impact on my heart when I can replace the voices of the critics (of whom I am often the most severe) with the voice of God telling me that my work is honorable.

I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Shrek where Princess Fiona refers to the oft neglected Donkey as a “noble steed.” Donkey perks up at this. His confidence is boosted by the assessment. He was not used to hearing such positive words spoken about him. He says to Shrek, “I hope you heard that. She called me a ‘noble steed.’”

I hope we can hear it, too. Someone is calling us noble. Yours is a noble task.

Of course, knowing this challenges us to live up to the calling’s nobility. The office itself has a dignity that we ought not to cheapen by our careless behavior and cavalier speech. Knowing that we are a “noble steed” may be the encouragement we need to take care not to act like an ass. Your work is a noble and honorable thing.

Oh, the noble will still make errors of judgment. Things that need doing will still get overlooked. People will disappoint us and sometimes frustrate us. And our placement in the surveys may not change. But Jesus says that what you do is noble, and that matters.

Maybe Mark needed to read that book on preaching, and maybe I need the grace to accept even clumsy compliments. But there is no “maybe” in this: the calling of pastor is a noble one.

Hearing that, the less like an ass and the more like a noble steed I feel.

1

https://news.gallup.com/poll/328136/ethics-ratings-rise-medical-workers-teachers.aspx (accessed 5/4/21) It’s notable that only 39% of the American public believe clergy to be honest and ethical. That is the environment in which we do our ministry.

2

1 Timothy 3:1