By Gary Khan
I was 16 years old, sitting in my room reading when I heard someone call my name, but there was no one around. I thought my sisters were playing a trick on me. I went looking to see where they were hiding, but no one was there. It happened two more times before I had a déjà vu moment. Wait, I thought, this is the whole Samuel story.
I stopped reading and asked, “God, is that You?”
It turned out it was, and that day God told me He had a plan for my life that involved serving Him by serving His people. It took me a few years to say yes, but ultimately, I did.
Flash forward seven years: I was getting ready to graduate from Bible College when God spoke to me through Bob Laflin, a prophet well known in Open Bible circles. He said, “Gary, you will not return to the islands, but God has set aside a group of people that you will minister to here.”
In that moment I saw people’s faces flashing across my mind. In the 30 years since, I have seen many of those same faces come through our ministry. That was my calling. I cannot believe that as of this writing, I have pastored Desert Streams Church of the Open Bible in Santa Clarita, California, for 30 years. I am not that old!
Thinking back through the years, what I hold dear has nothing to do with cultural markers of success such as a big church, big buildings, or books written. (These were all things I thought were important when I first started.) No, what I hold dear are the relationships I have had along the way.
As a pastor I have come to realize how much love God has put in my heart for the people I have shepherded over the years – the ones who are here and the ones who have moved on. I identify with the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians as he shares his pastor’s heart:
A Pastor’s Encouragement
Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. And God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering. In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you (2 Thessalonians 1:3-6, NLT).
Nothing encourages a shepherd more than seeing you, the people we are pastoring, flourishing in your faith. Our goal is to help you transform into the image and likeness of Christ. We want to see your faith flourishing. We want to see you choose to obey God’s Word even when times are tough and it seems countercultural and counterintuitive. Recently a person I have been shepherding a long time told me, “I know what I am doing is wrong, but I don’t care. I know God does not want me to do this, but it is too hard not to, so I am not going to try.”
These kinds of statements cut deeply because we have spent so much time walking with each of you, patiently trying to help you understand and obey God’s Word. It can be so discouraging when you choose to disobey. We don’t love you any less; it is just so heart-rending to see you choosing not to trust or see God’s best for you.
The encouragement is great when we see people’s faith flourish, when we see them choosing to trust and obey God regardless of the circumstances. It makes all the hard times and disappointments worthwhile.
Pastors are encouraged when we see your love for one another growing. We are encouraged when we see you trying to work things out and keep relationships intact instead of fighting and dishonoring one another and giving up on relationships. We are encouraged when you stay the course despite the hardships you are suffering. We boast about you to others because it encourages us so much.
My goal is to see the people I shepherd grow into all that God has for them. I love them all deeply and desire God’s best for them. When they choose to obey, I find such joy and encouragement to go another thirty years.
A Pastor’s Concern
During my first youth camp as a youth pastor, I took ten kids to a winter camp. They were driving me insane with their whining, pranking, and all-around teenage antics. I remember walking through the snow one evening on the way to a chapel (a brief respite without the kids around), complaining to God about how much I was struggling with “those” kids. I was telling God about a certain kid (I can still see his face) when in an instant God opened my eyes and heart and gave me a glimpse of how much He loved “those” kids. I was so overcome with emotion I fell to my knees in the snow and started to weep for them. Since that day I have had a deep love for the people God has called me to shepherd. This is actually a double-edged sword. To love deeply means that you can be hurt deeply. God knows I have experienced that many more times than I care to admit. The thing that keeps me going is to choose to not let it make me angry and bitter, but rather to allow the love of God for those people to continue to flow through me.
When you love deeply you have deep concerns for those you love. Paul says it this way:
And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe. And this includes you, for you believed what we told you about him (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
I care deeply for the people I shepherd – whether you believe it or not, whether I am physically present or not. I suffer with you and anguish with you. I have cried for you and contended for you. I pray that God would provide you rest and refreshing. I pray for showers of blessings spiritually and materially on you. I pray that you will experience His best life for you.
The crazy thing is that when I pray those things for you and God blesses you, a lot of times it causes you to move away from God and His family. You get so busy with the blessings that you neglect the God who made it all possible and you don’t have time for the family and for the shepherd who has covered you and cared for you – even from a distance. Sometimes people may say that I am not always “there” for them. The truth is they are constantly in my thoughts and prayers as I contend for them.
A pastor’s concern is always for the well-being of the people he or she shepherds. To all those I have shepherded over the last thirty years (and they are in the thousands) and continue to shepherd, I love you and pray God’s richest blessings and favor over your lives. May you prosper and be in good health even as your soul prospers. May you be the first and not the last, the head and not the tail. May He cause His face to shine upon you and give you peace. May He bless your goings and comings and may the communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and abide upon you both now and forever.
A Pastor’s Prayer
Closely related to a pastor’s concern is a pastor’s prayer.
So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
I picture the people I shepherd as being my daughter. One day I am going to get the honor and privilege to walk her down the aisle and entrust her to her Bridegroom. Paul tells us that the Church is the bride and Jesus is the groom; the shepherds are the ones who are preparing the bride for the day when she and her groom will be wed. My role is to ensure she is ready for the groom. That is all at once a great honor and an overwhelming responsibility.
My prayer for you, those I lead, is that you will live a life worthy of the calling of God, that God would say you are living in a way that lives up to what He has called us to. I am praying you will flourish in your faith and obedience and that you will understand the power you have through the Holy Spirit to accomplish all that God asks of you, no matter how impossible it may seem. I pray that you will love God more than you love this world and the things that tempt you to forsake your love for Him. I pray you will live lives that honor Jesus – not just live for your wants and desires – and that you will know how much you are loved by God and by me. I too want to live a life worthy of the calling of God on me.
About the Author
Gary Khan is the lead pastor of Desert Streams Church of the Open Bible in Santa Clarita, California. He is honored to be the husband of DeLaine for the past thirty years and proud to be the dad of Ethan and Allison. He is humbled that God would entrust him to shepherd people for thirty years and counting.