The pastorate is a respectable office. It is reserved for people who willingly follow the Lord Jesus Christ as models of Christian faith, hope, and love. It is for people of virtue. It is for leaders who are first followers (i.e. disciples).
Sadly, the pastorate has been filled with CEOs, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and a large mass of people who have forgotten, somewhere along the road, that a pastor is first and foremost a shepherd. When we find a shepherding shepherd in today’s church we sometimes do not know what to do with such folk. We decide that their time spent in studying the Scripture and caring for the saints is too awkward so we make sure to add more and more responsibilities that distract from their calling: they’re asked to be CFOs, a protector of assets, personal counselors, child and family therapist, and a host of other secondary tasks that could be done by (should be done by) associates and deacons.
Yet some pastors are able to fight the tide. Some pastors are able to remain true to their first calling. These are the pastors about whom we do not hear as often. They are too busy taking care of the poor, the orphan, the widow, and those who cannot tell the world how great a job they are doing. The pastors who make the news seem to do so for all the wrong reasons. We need to honor those who live the pastoral vocation faithfully whether or not fanfare comes.
One such pastor, a man who is a shepherding shepherd, a man whom I will always consider my pastor no matter where I go, is Dr. Jeff Garner. This weekend he is celebrating his birthday and that serves as a reminder to be thankful for those whom God has brought into our lives to guide us. Jeff has been this person for me on dozens of occasions.
He pastors a church in San Francisco known as the Lighthouse. I have mentioned this group several times. They serve the city often overcompensating for their lack of resources. The church has been a place of grace that has been led by the Spirit to be amongst the hurting and oppressed. A church like this needs a shepherding shepherd, someone who can encourage and strengthen the saints as they live in, but not of, the world.
Jeff taught me to shut my mouth when I was saying things that would get me in trouble. He welcomed me to be part of his family when I didn’t feel like I belonged. He encouraged me to write when I was just a beginner and he told me that I could make this academic journey because I had the necessary God-given gifts. He has been graceful when I have failed; he has been edifying when I was hurt; he has been there to celebrate when I was victorious.
Jeff performed the wedding ceremony for my wife and I over a year ago and he said good-bye as we left San Francisco for Portland. Many pastors are so concerned with building their own little kingdom that they become offended when you leave their local church (if they even knew you were there). Jeff is different. He had the goal of discovering if you were better when you left than when you came; if you had grown closer to God while under his pastorate than you were before you joined the church. If so, this was success.
There is more that I could say. He has been a exemplary husband and father, something I needed modeled for me since I did not have a good example as a child. I truly believe that in some sense I met him at a time when I needed someone to help bring healing to my bruised Christian faith. I owe him greatly and love him like an older brother, like a close friend, like a pastoring pastor. I know my wife feels the same way as do many people who have known him over the years.
Jeff, thank you for being a shepherding shepherd. You may not know day-to-day whether or not you are being successful in your vocational calling. You are and I know many, many people would agree. You are a pastor’s pastor, a disciple, an excellent Christian. May the Lord Jesus continue to guide you and happy birthday!