Michael Sattler and the Nature of Pastoral Ministry

"The Lord can certainly raise up for Himself another laborer to complete His work." 

This morning I listened to a podcast about a leader who was convinced he was a "big deal" and who worked hard to control and brand his ministry for maximum exposure. 

This afternoon I read the above quotation in a prison letter from Michael Sattler to his congregation before his brutal execution. Sattler was an Anabaptist minister in 1520s Switzerland/South Germany and was burned at the stake in 1527. He was arrested on his return from a meeting where a group of like-minded theologians penned an articulation of their faith with an emphasis on the implications of a believers' church (Schleitheim Confession). 

What disappointment after a bit of momentum for their burgeoning movement! 

Just as they experienced the success of some consolidation of their beliefs/ministry, lead pastor Sattler is arrested and taken away to be locked in a prison tower until his trial. 

His letter is shot through with references to Paul's letters and language from Hebrews 12 (enduring the discipline of the Lord; considering Christ as the perfecter of faith). 

He knows he's about to die and gives his congregation a final word from their pastor: "This letter shall be my farewell from all of you who truly love and follow God, and a testimony of my love toward you, which God has put in my heart for the sake of your salvation."

Echoing Paul, he then states that he had hoped to stay and continue with them "a little time longer to work at the Lord's task" but notes that it is better for his sake "to be released and with Christ to await the hope of the blessed."

To his soon-to-be pastorless congregation, he then says with boldness:

"The Lord can certainly raise up for Himself another laborer to complete His work." Here, perhaps, we have Sattler's philosophy of ministry in miniature:

1. The Lord himself is the one who had raised him up for God's own sake. Sattler's life, ministry, and death are in the hands of the one who had called him to this holy task.

2. Therefore, the Lord himself can raise up another Sattler to proclaim the gospel and feed the flock.

3. Because of his power and purpose, the Lord can "certainly" do this. While facing the brutality of physical death at the hands of coercive force, Sattler urges his congregation to believe that God's church cannot be drowned in the Neckar river or burned up on an executioner's stake. Another will preach the gospel in his stead because the church is sustained by the preached Word & the church will endure until the end (Sattler mentions the coming Day of the Lord at the beginning and end of the letter). 

4. Sattler is not a lord but a laborer. He labors in a work that was not his to begin with. The work that is to be completed & continued after Sattler's death is "His work." The work of the Christian church will continue even in the face of suffering and loss of leadership because of the perfect Christ who perfects the faith of believers who cling to his gospel and endure in obedience. 

5. In his letter as a whole, Sattler warns against false teachers and the actual persecutors ("Guard yourselves"), but the consistent watchword is about love and obedience. His statement about another finishing the work fits comfortably within this context of exhortation. 

I don't have any profound conclusion here, I was just freshly struck and warmly reminded by Sattler's letter that the enduring call of Christian ministry is to a life of long and loving obedience rather than to a platform of short-lived celebrity. 

Some of Sattler's final lines in his letter are: "I wait upon my God. Pray without ceasing." 

What a word.
August 4, 2021


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