Claiming Your People

Josh Greene, Lead Pastor of First Baptist Church Fairdale, exhorts every pastor to “claim your people”–connect, identify, and bind your life with theirs. In our current church culture where it is not uncommon for pastors to serve multiple churches in a relatively short span, it can become easy to view ministry and the people as a job. May we all take a step back, let the exhortation sink in, and strive to deeply love and unashamedly claim our people.

One of the great strengths of a minister is when he unashamedly claims his people. He is proud to be connected and associated with them. So much so that the bond between the church and its minister grows and grows and becomes so tight and strong.  The minister loves them, identifies with them, connects with them, and becomes like them. And vice versa. A lot of this is seen in the Biblical analogy of a Shepherd and his sheep.

This past week I had my heart stirred in such a great way around this concept.  I was studying the book of Titus.

Titus is a small book. Its only 3 chapters long. Only 46 verses. It many Bibles it all fits on to one page. It is short and simple.

The Apostle Paul wrote Titus this short letter to encourage him as to why Titus is still remaining on the island of Crete.  Paul had recently been there doing mission work. Many people had gotten saved. Churches were set up in each town on the island, and those churches now needed good leadership. So Paul left Titus there to put what remained into order. He was to appoint elders in every town to lead the churches. And Titus’s large task was to go and correct the false teachers who were already in these churches.

The book is short yet so profound on what a church is to be like = How the people who make up the church are to believe the right things according to the truth and then also have faithful consistent godly lives that go in accordance with the truth they so strongly believe. It really is a rich little book of the Bible!

So the setting is that Titus is currently living in Crete. He was not born and raised there. Paul left him there. But he was living and ministering there at the time. Paul however was not. Paul no longer lived there. He used to live there. He used to work and serve there, but he does not live there any longer during the time he was writing this letter to Titus.

This is where my heart was so stirred. So challenged. So convicted. So blessed.

At the very end of Titus, Paul is closing his letter with his final instructions and greetings. There are 15 verses in chapter 3, the final chapter. In verse 14, Paul writes this to Titus:

“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

This is a great verse for so many reasons. But what really got me was that phrase “our people.”

Whose people? Now maybe he was referring to all Christians everywhere. That certainly makes sense too. It works. It applies. But I don’t think so. I think Paul is an awesome pastor and he wants Titus to be an awesome pastor too. After all, Titus is his “true child in a common faith.” So Paul refers to the believers in Crete as “our people.” Paul is identifying himself with the Cretans.

Yes, the Apostle Paul is identifying himself with the Cretan believers. This is remarkable. Those of us who call ourselves ministers today have a lot to learn from this idea. Here are a few comments:

  1. Paul is not a Cretan. He wasn’t born one. He doesn’t live there. He doesn’t work there anymore. How are they “his people?” Perhaps Pastoring & Shepherding people is more deep than we realize. Its more than just a job. Its a life calling to love and serve and pray and sacrifice for these people. Quitting, transferring, moving, being “Called to somewhere else” should not change the fact that these people are still “your people.” It sure didn’t change Paul. Even though Paul lived somewhere else & worked somewhere else those Cretans who he once lived amongst, worked for, and loved were still precious to him. They were still “his people.”
  2. Cretans were not easy to claim. Perhaps many pastors feel this way. It is so easy to be proud of your all-star church members. The ones who will serve anywhere and do anything. The ones who are always leading people to Christ. The ones who are always giving money to various needs. The ones who play in the NCAA Final Four. What Pastor doesn’t want to claim them. Thats easy. But what about the church members who are messed up? What about the ones that sin a lot? What about the ones that make Jesus and the church look bad and hypocritical? Who is claiming them? Well, Paul was. In chapter 1 verse 12 Paul quotes an influential Cretan who is describing the way Cretans are. Here is what he says “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Paul said that quoting someone else who knew first hand. Crete was a rough place. And rough places have rough people. And the churches in rough places are made up of rough people. It did not stop Paul from being all-out unashamedly committed to them. He still claimed them. Those Cretans were “his people.”
  3. We live in a day where ministers move around a lot. It is very common for a minister with years of experience to have been involved in many churches. I wonder if they still claim their old churches? I wonder if they are still concerned for those people who they used to be concerned about? I wonder if they would even now call them “their people”? Our church is 96 years old. I am the 28th pastor of our church in those 96 years. With the exception of our great former pastor who served here right before me, Josh Powell who regularly calls to check up on our church, I have never heard anything from any of the former pastors who were concerned about “their people.” Why is that?
  4. The fact that Paul is claiming the believers in Crete as “his people” is so convicting and encouraging. I am so fired up right now to go and identify with the people of Fairdale. I cannot imagine being younger Titus and hearing Paul speak so proudly of these people.  Perhaps Titus was struggling with how “differently” they did things in Crete compared to the town he was from. And when he hears Paul who had relatively little connection with Crete claiming the Cretans, I am sure that Titus was refreshed & blessed to be committed to the calling of serving in Crete. After all, Paul did not call them “his people,” he called them “our people.” Paul was such a good leader. He includes Titus in on the sacrificial high calling of being a minister in Crete.

As I am thinking through all of this, I am wondering if the inability to call your old church folks “your people” says anything about whether they were ever truly your people. Maybe they never were. Maybe ministers sometimes just have jobs and never connect. Maybe once you move “your people” are out-of-sight out-of-mind. I hope not. Praise God that surely wasn’t the case for Paul.

Maybe Paul was just so gripped by that stunning truth at the end of Hebrews. Verse 13:17 that says leaders are keeping watch over souls and will have to give an account for “the people.” Surely, surely, surely if they are “our people” we will proudly, boldy, sacrificially claim them!

This post originally appeared on Josh’s personal blog.