A Pastor’s Pastor

Kate and David in Door County in front of their favorite breakfast place, The White Gull Inn.

During these six months of sabbatical, our family has enjoyed worshipping with New Covenant Bible Church in Saint Charles. Throughout this time, God has fed our souls in tremendous ways through the ministry of Pastor David Sunday. Following is a reflection of our experience, expressed as a thank you to our dear friend and pastor, David.

Certain qualities are common to pastors, at least good ones. Such people are positively magnetic. They have gravitas. Their honest questions open our eyes to aspects of life that we were too busy to consider. Their posture and manner of speaking are compelling, full of kindness, insight, and strength. You know these people when you meet them. They win us with their humility, while simultaneously directing attention away from themselves to the Lord Jesus.

During the last six months of sabbatical from College Church in Wheaton, where I serve on the pastoral staff, I have observed such a man. His name is David Sunday, Senior Pastor of New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, IL. Despite his valley of suffering, David has embodied and proclaimed the gospel in remarkable ways. Following are some lessons that my wife and I have learned from him. But first, a few words about the reason for these reflections.

My observation comes partly from the luxury of being able to “receive” ministry in ways that pastors seldom can in the frenetic pace of Sunday mornings. It is also a function of the extraordinary ministry to which the Lord has called David since his beloved wife, Kate, was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Thymoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Writing from Northwestern Memorial Hospital surrounding the diagnosis, Kate comments about her husband’s pastoral response:

“David has been leading me in this journey.  When we first entered the hospital on Jan. 29th and began learning that there was a strong suspicion that I have cancer, a great fear sought to grip our hearts.  Right away David began speaking to me and reminding me of God’s goodness.  He challenged me to stay away from the "why" questions.  "Why me?  Why now?  Why when my children are still so young?…"  He reminded me that those questions may not ever be answered on this side of eternity, and will lead me to confusion, despair, and bitterness against God.  I am so grateful that David is a strong and compassionate leader.  Instead, he challenged me to focus in on the "who, what, and how" of the situation.   "Who are you, Lord?  What do you want to teach us about Yourself?  And, how do you want to use us for Your glory?"

Around the same time, David interpreted Kate’s condition with the following words:

“Because of Christ’s resurrection, we are filled with joy and hope that we will also be raised with Him.  What blessed assurance this gives.  So – ‘Think often of Heaven.’  What do you know about Heaven?  Can you picture a nail-pierced hand reaching out and wiping every tear from your eye?  What kind of tears will they be?   Can you imagine a song of worship being sung by people from every nation, tribe, and tongue?  Can you imagine praising God with an unsinning heart?  What will it be like to finally see Him face to face?”

One way that David’s preaching has presented this face-to-face encounter with Jesus is through its serious regard for the authority of the Bible. My wife, Angela, describes it as “eye-popping exposition.” In her words: “During a sermon, when you look at the text of Scripture, the truth of God’s Word virtually leaps off the page. You first learn the context of the time in which the word was written, and then its message jumps across the centuries to connect with your heart. One feels a sense of God’s presence as David wrestles with the Word before him, and, as Jacob of old, receives divine grace for himself and the church.”

David’s valley of suffering also seems to have amplified a significant missional impulse. By exhorting the entire church to pursue gospel outreach, he has sought to replace our impoverished vision of life’s purpose with a view from God’s vantage point—the reality that each of us in Christ shares a crucial role in the ministry of reconciliation.

As a natural outgrowth of reconciliation, sermons stress the need to pursue holiness. We are reminded that even the noblest of men and women, untouched by the scorching flame of impurity and unsullied by the dark recesses of one’s heart, must nonetheless intentionally conform their lives to the image of Christ, for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). A practical point toward this end, we have also considered the need to resist the danger of always being “on the run,” neglecting the cultivation our souls—that busy, flitting lives are usually not the fullest and most fruitful ones. In our age of high-tech distractedness, we are constantly encouraged to develop the habit of focused biblical reflection.

Perhaps the two most perceptible qualities of David’s preaching are his affection for people and a desire to see the members of Christ’s Body growing in love for one another. Over and against the threadbare, anemic ring of the term “self,” we have been encouraged to invest in “one another.” This solemn task of preferring others is never easy, but it is necessary. The quality of our worship and witness in the world depend on it. And, I’ve realized, no one is in more danger of transgressing this principle than the pastor. Because holy things are our trade, we are regularly in danger of familiarity. Pride goes with us into our studies and it seeks to accompany us into the pulpit. When it manages to do so, it hides the cross from the congregations’ sight, eclipsing the gospel with pretension. On the other hand, when pride is suppressed and a hearty measure of humility attends our words, the cross is elucidated with clarity and beauty.

These six months of observing David’s life and being fed from his preaching have been a precious gift. I suppose that if I were to identity one particular lesson with which my wife and I are leaving, it would be this: Preaching is not simply something you do; it’s who you are. We have seen with greater clarity what is most needed in the world—more godly pastors whose lives reflect the truth of Isaiah 66:2, “[T]his is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Thank you David for being such an example!

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