Any community requires structures and agreed procedures in order to run smoothly. Within any community – a school, or health service, or business, or neighbourhood, for example – pastors are those who act as guarantors that, in the necessary pursuit of the greater good, the needs of any given person are not ignored. Without the humanising role of pastors, it is impossible to sustain healthy communities over any length of time.
Of course, as with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers, pastors too have their weaknesses, those opportunities for potential attacks. For many pastors, their biggest battles lie in a natural desire to be liked (that is, natural to pastors, though not necessarily to other types); and in the false belief that they are indispensible, that without them everything will fall apart. These weaknesses often result in unhealthy patterns of people-pleasing and taking on unsustainable workloads. For the pastor, waiting involves the discipline of taking mastery over these tendencies.
Joseph provides us with a working study of a pastor at waiting. Here is the man God has entrusted with enfolding Mary and Jesus in his protective embrace. And so he must face his demons as he waits. The demon of people-pleasing is faced down as he is asked by God to take on a part which will bring him into disrepute: in the eyes of his neighbours, is it pride or stupidity that motivates this righteous man to take on a woman abandoned, to raise as his own another man’s child? The demon of indispensability is faced down as he accepts that he has no part whatsoever in the conception – he is, in a very acute way, absolutely dispensed of; in this instance God does not need the pastors involvement to fulfil his plan...and there will be other such instances, albeit less dramatic.
Joseph stands his ground in faith, and faces down and defeats his demons. Throughout, he is attuned to God’s speaking into his life, in his case in particular through dreams; and is responsive in decisive ways that honour both God and others, especially Mary. For pastors, waiting is a time of testing and of victories that will equip you for the tasks that lie ahead...