“Here is a trustworthy saying,” writes Paul to Timothy: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer [Greek episkopos – one of the most common words for ‘pastor’ in the New Testament], he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
This is an idea we take very seriously during “Clergy Appreciation Month.” Every year, when October rolls around, we look for opportunities to highlight, underscore, and celebrate the nobility of the men and women who serve the church as ministers of the Gospel. But all this begs a basic question: in what does their “nobility” chiefly consist?
There’s only one way to resolve the issue, and that’s by conducting a case-by-case study. Every pastor is unique. Every pastor serves a unique group of people within the context of a unique set of circumstances. Like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. And yet, if we examine them one by one, we discover that they all have something in common. Despite the many differences that distinguish the evangelist from the counselor, the youth minister from the hospital chaplain, the country parson from the director of an urban outreach, all merit our gratitude and respect, and all do so in essentially the same way.
What is that?
The answer becomes clear in the case Pastor Lee Jong-rak, the subject of Focus on the Family’s documentary film The Drop Box. Pastor Lee provides us with a powerful example of what it means to “feed Christ’s sheep” (John 21:15-17). And he does this in a setting – the orphanage for abandoned and disabled children that he oversees in Seoul, South Korea – that can only be described as a remarkably poignant image of the church.
In the words of reporter John M. Glionna, Lee has taken on the job of pastoring “an unwanted flock” – a collection of children who, “if not for his drop box, would be left in the street” (“South Korean pastor tends an unwanted flock,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2011). Moreover, he has assumed this challenge in direct response to an unwanted circumstance in his own life: the birth of a son with a severe case of cerebral palsy. The first time he laid eyes on this disfigured child, Lee recalls, “I asked God, ‘Why would you give me a handicapped child?’ I wasn’t grateful for this baby.” But it wasn’t long before his attitude did a complete about-face. It happened when he came to the realization that this boy, who was also a person made in the Image of God, desperately needed him. That insight changed his life.
Now, when he isn’t bathing, dressing, or spoon-feeding his helpless twenty-five-year-old son, Lee Jong-rak spends his time changing diapers, preparing meals, answering night-cries, and generally attending to the needs of twenty-one needy children ranging in age from two months to eighteen years. All of these kids have come to him through the drop box. They are his congregation. To watch him at work, both at home and in the church, is to see a living portrait of the Kingdom of God: a picture of “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:21) – in short, the unwanted – thriving under the care of an overseer who has shown himself worthy of the name.
What makes the Gospel minister noble? Ironically, it’s his willingness to embrace the ignoble – to set aside his own wants in order to serve those the world casts aside.
This is something Pastor Lee Jong-rak does with unflagging patience and love.
No wonder they call him “the pastor.”