A pastor friend told me that when he candidated at his church years ago a leader told him stories of several previous pastors, each painted in dark terms. Ever since, he’s imagined that when he leaves he will also be the bad guy of his story, no matter what actually happens. In a recent D.Min. class on conflict, his professor asked him, “Who writes your story?”
“They do,” he replied.
“No,” his prof replied.
He tried again, “I do?”
Having no options left he said, “God?”
“Right,” replied his professor. “God writes your story.”
Paul’s critics in Corinth had created a story about him, saying that he came and left without any proper letters of recommendation. To which he replied:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
How would you reply to someone who said to you, “We’re going to need to see your letters of recommendation”? How about saying this:
I have two with me. One is here, inside my jacket, written on my own heart. You’re welcome to read it. It’s the story of Jesus’ work among my flock written into my life. Our fellowship with one another and Christ in Communion services and church socials is written there. Our prayers are there; you can catch a whiff of the incense. The way my heart rejoiced when I baptized people that summer afternoon at the lake or our wonderful Easter morning services—those are all written on my heart. All that bound us together—“one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”—the worship services, the burdens we carried together, they are all there.
You see those tearstains on my letter? They’re part of the story, too. Sometimes God’s people break the hearts of his shepherds. I’ve felt them hurt each other, and been wounded myself. And, oh, when those I had worshipped and worked with walked away from our church I just died inside. Sometimes I was just so tired. When my people wept, I cried with them. All that is written there. That’s the letter of recommendation here in my inside pocket.
I have another letter. It’s a matter of public record. Christ himself wrote it, the Spirit of the living God was his ink, and the hearts of these people I serve are his parchment. My role? Like Mother Teresa said, “I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God ....” We didn’t try to hammer holiness into the people. That never works. It’s grace or nothing. While I preached, organized Bible studies, found teachers for the kids, counseled the harassed and helpless, comforted the dying or grieving—all the things pastors do—the Holy Spirit was inscribing God’s new covenant across their hearts so clearly, so indelibly, that anyone could read it there. That’s my story. That’s my letter of recommendation.
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
Your Faithful Scribe
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.