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Dear Timothy,

In our discussion of the pastoral labors of the minister with those who are troubled and have problems of many sorts, we were speaking particularly of certain qualifications which the pastor must have. You recall that in our last letter we spoke of the fact that the fundamental qualification was that the pastor must be a minister of the Word. 

I want to mention a few other things before we proceed into other areas with our discussion. 

You have learned in Seminary that the pastor must be a man of prayer. We ought to pause for a few moments and discuss together what this implies. 

That it is an important qualification no one can deny. We read rather strikingly in the gospels that Jesus Himself was One Who prayed much. In fact, he spent whole nights in prayer to His Father at crucial moments in. His ministry. Mark records, in the very first chapter of his gospel record, how Jesus was very busy late into the night healing the sick. All the city was gathered together at the door. After such a busy day the Lord must have been exhausted. And yet He did not spend the whole night in sound and refreshing sleep, for we read that “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (vs. 35) The disciples could not understand why Jesus would hide Himself. They were excited by His popularity. And so we read, “And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek thee.” (vss. 36, 37) They could not understand this profound need of prayer. 

Luke, in the first vss. of chapter 11, suggests that it was exactly this practice of the Lord which led the disciples to request Jesus to teach them to pray. It was almost as if they thought to themselves: If our Lord Who is perfect needs prayer so much that He spends whole nights in prayer, how weak is our life of prayer. And it was that which prompted their request. 

There is also a striking passage in Hebrews 5:7, 8 which speaks of these prayers of the Lord: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” 

We need not enlarge upon this. It ought to strike-us with considerable force that if Christ Himself Who was without sin needed prayer to accomplish the work which God had given Him, how much more do not we, the servants of Christ, need prayer to do the work which Christ has assigned to us. 

It is true, of course, that every child of God needs prayer. The Scriptures are quite clear on this. It is also true that the minister of the gospel needs to be a praying minister because the truth of the Scriptures can and will become clear to him and will be able to be expounded by him in the preaching only as he prays for a heart of understanding. It is also true that a minister, burdened with the cares of the flock of God, cares enough for his flock to pray for them constantly. Paul uses some very sharp language when he speaks of this. In Ephesians 1:15, 16 he writes: “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” And this same truth is expressed elsewhere. Paul, more than once, tells the church that he makes constant mention of the saints in his prayers. 

But, while all this is true and necessary, I refer more specifically to the fact that the minister must learn to wrestle in prayer concerning specific problems which he faces in connection with the needs of the people of God. If he is a pastor to his sheep, he must pray specifically for his sheep as he works with them. Before he goes “on a call” he ought to spend time in prayer that he may bring the problem he faces before the throne of God’s grace. This is important for several reasons. By prayer he will become conscious of his need of grace as he does the work of Christ. In prayer he will bring the sheep whom he must help to God so that he will seek God’s indispensable blessing upon the labors he puts forth and so that he will commit to God the outcome of the matter. Through prayer he will seek guidance in the solution to the problem he faces, for this solution can come only through the work of the Spirit and the preaching of the Word. 

Without prayer, much prayer, he cannot expect to do his work. 

Another qualification of which mention ought to be made is the need to establish with his sheep what I can only call rapport. My dictionary defines this word as meaning: relation; connection; especially harmonious and sympathetic relation. 

There are several elements which are involved in this. 

In the first place, a pastor who establishes rapport with his sheep is one who is willing and able to listen. This matter of listening is not as easy as it sometimes seems. There are pastors who want to do all the talking. They do some strange things sometimes. When they go on sick calls, they tell the person who is sick about their last bout with the flu or about the operation which they themselves had on their gall bladder. It is doubtful whether a person who is sick has any interest in the gall bladder of his or her pastor. Or, if it seems a bit crass to talk about these things, they talk about any other matter which may come to mind. But when people are distressed and suffering under the heavy hand of God, they need a pastor who will bring to them something other than any one in the congregation can bring. Pastors must be careful that they do not talk too much, and that when they talk, they talk about the right things. 

But there is more to this matter of listening. It seems to me that the majority of the times when people discuss their problems with their pastor they do not really, in so many words, express what their problem really is. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes they do not dare to discuss their problems. Sometimes they do not know how to put their problems into words. Sometimes they do not even know precisely what their problem is. It is the exception rather than the rule that a person is able to express clearly and concisely the particular problems which he face. And so, listening is very difficult. One must listen in such a way that one hears what is not really being said, what is between the lines, what lies behind the words which are spoken. One listens no so much to what the lips are saying, as to what the heart is saying. 

That is one element in rapport. 

Another element in rapport is the need to know the sheep. This takes time for a pastor when he comes to a congregation. But it is necessary. For him to know his sheep he has to see them and understand them in a general way. He must understand human nature in general—what it is like, what it is capable of doing, what sin does to people, what reactions people have under different circumstances. The Scriptures are a goldmine of information on this subject. In fact, we could almost say that the Scriptures give us all the information we need concerning the realities of sin and the work of grace in the hearts and lives of God’s sinning saints. It always struck me that Rev. Ophoff, whom I had in school for my three years of Seminary, had a profound understanding of human nature. He was, strangely enough, a man who was not very adept at applying this knowledge always to particular circumstances in which he found himself as a pastor. But he knew and understood human nature. He made observations about human nature which I remember to this day and which have been of great help to me in my work. 

But a general knowledge of human nature is not sufficient. One must know his sheep individually. He must know them in all the relationships of their life. He must know them in their families, in their work, in the company of their fellow saints, in their walk in the world. He must know the kind of people they are. And only in this way will he be able to establish rapport with those with whom he works. 

Furthermore, this rapport requires that a pastor be able to put himself in the place of those with whom he labors. This is the true meaning of sympathy. To be sympathetic is to suffer with; that is the meaning of the term. Scripture tells us that we have a perfect High priest in Jesus Christ. And He is a perfect High priest because He is able to be sympathetic with our infirmities. This the literal meaning of Hebrews 4:15, 16. And He is able to be sympathetic with our infirmities because he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. It is for this reason that we may come boldly unto the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

But a pastor must be sympathetic in this way. He must be able to suffer with his sheep. And to do this he must be able to put himself into the place of his sheep. He must look at their life with its problems and burdens from inside them. He must see things the way they see them at the moment. He must understand truly what is happening to them and what suffering they are enduring because he is able to see things from their perspective. Only when his sheep know that their pastor understands will they be able also to talk with him freely about the troubles which are their lot in life. 

But finally, a pastor must also maintain his own role as pastor. There is a kind of delicate balance implied in this. A pastor must be able to take his sheep to his own heart while at the same time holding them at arm’s length. He must maintain his role as pastor. I.e., he must maintain his position as an ambassador of Christ who is sent in Christ’s name and with Christ’s authority to speak the Word of Christ. Nothing must obscure that role which is central to it all. 

And, strangely enough, this a part of establishing rapport. For the rapport which must be established is that, finally, between the individual Christian and Christ Himself. The pastor acts in this respect only as intermediary. The child of God must be brought face to face with Christ and with Christ’s Word. Before that Word the child of God must bow. The sympathy and understanding which the pastor shows must have as its purpose to reflect Christ’s sympathetic understanding of the needs of His people. 

When there is such rapport, then the pastor can indeed work well and with effect in the strengthening of the people of God. 

But we must bring this letter to its conclusion. 

Fraternally in Christ, 

H. Hanko

Dear Timothy,

In our discussion of the pastoral labors of the minister with those who are troubled and have problems of many sorts, we were speaking particularly of certain qualifications which the pastor must have. You recall that in our last letter we spoke of the fact that the fundamental qualification was that the pastor must be a minister of the Word. 

I want to mention a few other things before we proceed into other areas with our discussion. 

You have learned in Seminary that the pastor must be a man of prayer. We ought to pause for a few moments and discuss together what this implies. 

That it is an important qualification no one can deny. We read rather strikingly in the gospels that Jesus Himself was One Who prayed much. In fact, he spent whole nights in prayer to His Father at crucial moments in. His ministry. Mark records, in the very first chapter of his gospel record, how Jesus was very busy late into the night healing the sick. All the city was gathered together at the door. After such a busy day the Lord must have been exhausted. And yet He did not spend the whole night in sound and refreshing sleep, for we read that “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (vs. 35) The disciples could not understand why Jesus would hide Himself. They were excited by His popularity. And so we read, “And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek thee.” (vss. 36, 37) They could not understand this profound need of prayer. 

Luke, in the first vss. of chapter 11, suggests that it was exactly this practice of the Lord which led the disciples to request Jesus to teach them to pray. It was almost as if they thought to themselves: If our Lord Who is perfect needs prayer so much that He spends whole nights in prayer, how weak is our life of prayer. And it was that which prompted their request. 

There is also a striking passage in Hebrews 5:7, 8 which speaks of these prayers of the Lord: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” 

We need not enlarge upon this. It ought to strike-us with considerable force that if Christ Himself Who was without sin needed prayer to accomplish the work which God had given Him, how much more do not we, the servants of Christ, need prayer to do the work which Christ has assigned to us. 

It is true, of course, that every child of God needs prayer. The Scriptures are quite clear on this. It is also true that the minister of the gospel needs to be a praying minister because the truth of the Scriptures can and will become clear to him and will be able to be expounded by him in the preaching only as he prays for a heart of understanding. It is also true that a minister, burdened with the cares of the flock of God, cares enough for his flock to pray for them constantly. Paul uses some very sharp language when he speaks of this. In Ephesians 1:15, 16 he writes: “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” And this same truth is expressed elsewhere. Paul, more than once, tells the church that he makes constant mention of the saints in his prayers. 

But, while all this is true and necessary, I refer more specifically to the fact that the minister must learn to wrestle in prayer concerning specific problems which he faces in connection with the needs of the people of God. If he is a pastor to his sheep, he must pray specifically for his sheep as he works with them. Before he goes “on a call” he ought to spend time in prayer that he may bring the problem he faces before the throne of God’s grace. This is important for several reasons. By prayer he will become conscious of his need of grace as he does the work of Christ. In prayer he will bring the sheep whom he must help to God so that he will seek God’s indispensable blessing upon the labors he puts forth and so that he will commit to God the outcome of the matter. Through prayer he will seek guidance in the solution to the problem he faces, for this solution can come only through the work of the Spirit and the preaching of the Word. 

Without prayer, much prayer, he cannot expect to do his work. 

Another qualification of which mention ought to be made is the need to establish with his sheep what I can only call rapport. My dictionary defines this word as meaning: relation; connection; especially harmonious and sympathetic relation. 

There are several elements which are involved in this. 

In the first place, a pastor who establishes rapport with his sheep is one who is willing and able to listen. This matter of listening is not as easy as it sometimes seems. There are pastors who want to do all the talking. They do some strange things sometimes. When they go on sick calls, they tell the person who is sick about their last bout with the flu or about the operation which they themselves had on their gall bladder. It is doubtful whether a person who is sick has any interest in the gall bladder of his or her pastor. Or, if it seems a bit crass to talk about these things, they talk about any other matter which may come to mind. But when people are distressed and suffering under the heavy hand of God, they need a pastor who will bring to them something other than any one in the congregation can bring. Pastors must be careful that they do not talk too much, and that when they talk, they talk about the right things. 

But there is more to this matter of listening. It seems to me that the majority of the times when people discuss their problems with their pastor they do not really, in so many words, express what their problem really is. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes they do not dare to discuss their problems. Sometimes they do not know how to put their problems into words. Sometimes they do not even know precisely what their problem is. It is the exception rather than the rule that a person is able to express clearly and concisely the particular problems which he face. And so, listening is very difficult. One must listen in such a way that one hears what is not really being said, what is between the lines, what lies behind the words which are spoken. One listens no so much to what the lips are saying, as to what the heart is saying. 

That is one element in rapport. 

Another element in rapport is the need to know the sheep. This takes time for a pastor when he comes to a congregation. But it is necessary. For him to know his sheep he has to see them and understand them in a general way. He must understand human nature in general—what it is like, what it is capable of doing, what sin does to people, what reactions people have under different circumstances. The Scriptures are a goldmine of information on this subject. In fact, we could almost say that the Scriptures give us all the information we need concerning the realities of sin and the work of grace in the hearts and lives of God’s sinning saints. It always struck me that Rev. Ophoff, whom I had in school for my three years of Seminary, had a profound understanding of human nature. He was, strangely enough, a man who was not very adept at applying this knowledge always to particular circumstances in which he found himself as a pastor. But he knew and understood human nature. He made observations about human nature which I remember to this day and which have been of great help to me in my work. 

But a general knowledge of human nature is not sufficient. One must know his sheep individually. He must know them in all the relationships of their life. He must know them in their families, in their work, in the company of their fellow saints, in their walk in the world. He must know the kind of people they are. And only in this way will he be able to establish rapport with those with whom he works. 

Furthermore, this rapport requires that a pastor be able to put himself in the place of those with whom he labors. This is the true meaning of sympathy. To be sympathetic is to suffer with; that is the meaning of the term. Scripture tells us that we have a perfect High priest in Jesus Christ. And He is a perfect High priest because He is able to be sympathetic with our infirmities. This the literal meaning of Hebrews 4:15, 16. And He is able to be sympathetic with our infirmities because he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. It is for this reason that we may come boldly unto the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

But a pastor must be sympathetic in this way. He must be able to suffer with his sheep. And to do this he must be able to put himself into the place of his sheep. He must look at their life with its problems and burdens from inside them. He must see things the way they see them at the moment. He must understand truly what is happening to them and what suffering they are enduring because he is able to see things from their perspective. Only when his sheep know that their pastor understands will they be able also to talk with him freely about the troubles which are their lot in life. 

But finally, a pastor must also maintain his own role as pastor. There is a kind of delicate balance implied in this. A pastor must be able to take his sheep to his own heart while at the same time holding them at arm’s length. He must maintain his role as pastor. I.e., he must maintain his position as an ambassador of Christ who is sent in Christ’s name and with Christ’s authority to speak the Word of Christ. Nothing must obscure that role which is central to it all. 

And, strangely enough, this a part of establishing rapport. For the rapport which must be established is that, finally, between the individual Christian and Christ Himself. The pastor acts in this respect only as intermediary. The child of God must be brought face to face with Christ and with Christ’s Word. Before that Word the child of God must bow. The sympathy and understanding which the pastor shows must have as its purpose to reflect Christ’s sympathetic understanding of the needs of His people. 

When there is such rapport, then the pastor can indeed work well and with effect in the strengthening of the people of God. 

But we must bring this letter to its conclusion. 

Fraternally in Christ, 

H. Hanko