|From Pastor Mark Roberts Volume 1 October 15, 2006|
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Thanks for signing up for The Pastor's Letter! I'm pleased to include you among those who are receiving my first letter.
I realize my opening paragraph -- a quotation from one of Paul's letters -- might seem like a typically "churchy" greeting, the sort of thing that a pastor would put at the top of something called The Pastor's Letter because it seemed like the appropriately pastoral thing to do. I also realize that you might be inclined to skip over the greeting as nothing more than a bit of religious boilerplate. If I were receiving this letter, I might be tempted to do the same.
The truth is, however, that I chose this greeting quite intentionally for several reasons. These have everything to do with why I'm writing this letter and what I hope it -- and the Pastor's Letters to follow -- will accomplish.
First, I chose this greeting because it comes from the hand of my pastoral "hero," the Apostle Paul. More than any other human being, Paul has shaped my ministry both through his inspired teaching and through his pastoral example. Some of you may know that I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the subject of Paul as a pastor, focusing on Acts and 1 Thessalonians. So the fact that I am beginning The Pastor's Letter by quoting a section of Paul should come as no surprise.
Second, there's more here than simply quoting my pastoral mentor. I'm also seeking to imitate Paul in his creative use of media to shepherd his churches. As you may recall, Paul planted churches in cities throughout the Mediterranean world, but he didn't remain in these cities for very long. Soon he was off to the next place God wanted him to evangelize. Thus Paul faced a tough challenge of how to pastor people when he wasn't with them. Writing letters was a central part of his answer.
We take this for granted, of course, because Paul's letters to his churches are so familiar to us from the New Testament. But what Paul did with letters was extraordinary and unprecedented. Up to this point in history, letters were used for a variety of purposes, but not to nurture a community. Paul broke new ground here in a most creative way, surely inspired by the Spirit not only in his content, but also in his decision to make letters a pastoral tool.
As I've thought about how I can be more effective in my pastoral leadership and care for our congregation, I've decided to do as Paul did, and make use of the media available to me. Even though I'm not separated from you by distance in the way Paul was from his churches, there's no way I can be intimately involved in all of your lives on a regular basis. Time as much as distance keeps us apart, not to mention the fact that I'm only one person and haven't learned how to clone myself. But I can use the technology available to get The Pastor's Letter into your hands, or into your e-mail inbox, at any rate. This is a place for me, like Paul, to share my heart, my prayers, my concerns, and my convictions about God's grace and its implications. The mode of delivery is a relatively new one, but the basic form – a personal letter for a community of people – is as old as, well, as old as the Apostle Paul himself.
Sometimes Paul wrote very long letters. Romans, for example, has about 10,000 words. Don't worry. I'm not planning to imitate this aspect of Paul's letter-writing ministry. So I'll sign off in a moment. I have more to say about why I've used Paul's greeting to the Corinthians, but this will have to wait until my next letter. Before I close, however, I want to add a couple of final thoughts.
First, sometimes Paul wrote in direct response to questions from his churches. This is the case with 1 Corinthians, for example (see 7:1). I hope to use The Pastor's Letter as a place to answer your questions, the sort that may be of interest to wide spectrum of IPC's members. I can't promise that I'll get to your particular question right away, but I can promise to save it and address it when it seems appropriate. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (You can also use this e-mail address for personal questions and communications that will not be published in The Pastor's Letter.)
Second, I chose Paul's greeting to the Corinthians because I really mean what his words convey: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." These are not just idle words. They reflect my heart's desire for you this day, that you will truly experience God's grace and peace through Christ. I'm praying for this very thing!
Grace and peace,
P.S. The picture at the top of this letter is one of Rembrandt's paintings of, you guessed it, the Apostle Paul writing a letter. It was painted in 1657, and currently hangs in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. You can find more info on this painting here.
Want to sign up for The Pastor's Letter? Just visit the IPC website (www.irvinepres.org) and look for the sign up box in the right column.