A Sense of Him
Tony Cooke

I continue to be amazed at the many hats pastors are expected to wear. Overseeing a corporation and a staff requires a pastor to have a certain degree of executive and managerial abilities. Leading a spiritual army calls for a pastor to exhibit the discipline and motivational skills of a military leader. And the list goes on. There are expectations for a pastor to be a brilliant theologian and skillful teacher, volunteer recruiter, public relations expert, crisis manager, conflict resolver, talented fund-raiser, insightful counselor, powerful intercessor, and don’t forget the need to know about buildings and zoning, as well as legal and accounting issues.

Trying to measure up to and fulfill these many demands with some degree of proficiency can not only cause a spiritual leader to feel frazzled, but also to lose sight of a primary and vital aspect of the biblical role of a pastor, that of Gentle Shepherd.

One of the most powerful statements Paul ever made about his ministry dealt with his gentleness toward a group of believers. “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

What Really Validates a Ministry?

When Paul wanted to remind this church of the nature and validity of his ministry, he didn’t appeal to his ability to move a crowd, his doctrinal intelligence, his oratorical eloquence, or his efficiency in leading an organization (although all of those may be great skills). Rather, he pointed out that he had been gentle with them, that he had loved them deeply and genuinely.

One minister received an impacting note following a service. The person wrote:
“For me ’twas not the truth you taught, to you so clear, to me so dim. But when you came just now, you brought a sense of Him.”

What a powerful insight! When we preach, when we interact with people, we must do more than bring information. We must bring “a sense of Him.” Informational ministry is one thing. Inspirational ministry is another. But God has also called us to incarnational ministry—manifesting His very character.

In my first few years as an assistant pastor, an elderly lady told me that she had heard two preachers on the radio who contradicted each other about some doctrinal issue, and it was troubling her. She explained her confusion and asked me what I believed with the following explanation: “Brother Cooke, I don’t understand a lot of the complicated things about the Bible, but I’ve watched you and I’ve seen the fruit of the Spirit in your life. If you’ll just tell me what you believe, then I’ll believe that, too.”

The teacher in me didn’t like her statement. I wanted to teach her the principles of the Word so she could discern truth from error for herself. But I realized that some of these principles of biblical interpretation were “dim” to her. What she had been influenced by in my life, I trust, was “a sense of Him.” Principles are important, but so is Presence, bringing a sense of Him. There are some things we’ll be able to accomplish by having the right Presence that we’ll never accomplish by principles alone. Truth is important; we all know that. But people want more than a message that is true; they want to sense God’s heart through the messenger.

I doubt there are many of us who haven’t, on occasion, let our frustrations come out in a sermon, or inadvertently transmitted the pressures we were feeling to those we were ministering to. But what happens if this becomes chronic and persistent? Perhaps this is what prompted John Wesley to address one of the preachers under his oversight with the following: “Your temper is uneven; you lack love for your neighbors. You grow angry too easily; your tongue is too sharp—thus the people will not hear you.”

I once heard a great missionary say to a group of pastors: “People will drive from miles around to hear you if you’ll just make them feel good about themselves.” This was said in the context of truly loving people and building them up, not of insincere flattery.

Gentleness is one of the traits used to describe God’s heart toward us, and if we are truly His ambassadors in the earth, it will emanate from us as well. Never underestimate the power of gentleness!

  • David spoke of God’s influence in His life and said, “Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35).
  • Isaiah 40:11 describes God’s nature and work: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”
  • Jesus said, “…I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
  • Gentleness does not mean the pastor is a wimp, and certainly there are times to be firm. In 1 Corinthians 4:21, Paul asked, “Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” But we know Paul preferred gentleness. He said in 2 Corinthians 10:1, “I, Paul, myself, am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”

Maybe every pastors reading this is doing great in this area, or perhaps some have been bringing more of a sense of frustration, fatigue, or discouragement to the pulpit. Our sincere prayer is that you will have “a sense of Him” renewed, restored, and released, not only in you, but especially through you! God bless you richly as you bring His presence a true sense of Him—to those under your care.