I have been in the pastoral ministry for seven years now. It is not at all what I thought it would be when I began. It is not at all what I thought it would be when I graduated seminary. It is so unusual, in fact, that I find it is very difficult to explain what it means to be a pastor.
I know that it is my duty, as a pastor, to display the glory of God through the proclamation of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I also know that it is my duty to display the glory of God in such a way that it will cause Christians to love God and one another more. The difficulty then, lies not in the job description, but in the carrying out of one's duty.
In the best case scenario, a young man who aspires to enter the pastoral ministry does so because he wants to do exactly what the job description calls for. Unfortunately, a young man enters the ministry with the idea that he can actually accomplish it. He goes to seminary, learns to parse Greek and Hebrew words, he learns to preach, and he might even learn to say prayers. He will then get hired, go to a church, use those skills confidently, and quickly find that his skills do not avail him.
For myself, I was under the impression that simply preaching the Word of God rightly would lead to the growth of the church, the salvation of souls, and the general progress of others in holiness. What I did not realize was that none of these things can be measured very accurately, that true spiritual growth is like fighting an uphill battle against a deeply entrenched foe, and that the vast majority of pastoral work is actually personal. I need to explain this because I believe it is far too often overlooked in the mentoring process of training a pastor.
I confess that when I began as a pastor that I thought I was an above average Christian. I thought that I was smarter than the average pew-sitter, and that I was more zealous for my God than many of my contemporaries. I even reckoned myself as one of the better preachers that I had ever heard. I thought that this would mean that I would be a great pastor and that the goodness and mercy of God would be showered upon those who would sit under my ministry. I have hardly met a pastor who did not esteem himself in the same way.
I want to be exceedingly careful here, lest I be misunderstood. I ask you to allow me to grant that what I thought was and is actually true. Grant to me, that compared to the average Christian, that I am of above average zeal and talent, and that I am an above average preacher. Here's what I learned: even if you grant me this, it is utterly and completely insignificant. I was, in the beginning, impressed with my skills even if God wasn't. It is difficult to learn that God is not interested in sharpening our talents and skills per se. He loves us far more holistically than this.
This leads to one of the greatest discoveries in the ministry. When a young man is preparing for the ministry, he believes that God is preparing him to use these skills to help others, and so he does. However, for a young pastor in pursuit of the heart of God, he will quickly find that the tools he thought were meant for others will first be turned upon himself. The sermons he prepares for others will convict him deeply if he has a modicum of true zeal for personal holiness. The Word will reveal to him his own failures and sin, and most often, he will ascend to the pulpit knowing that he preaches as the hypocrite. It is marvelous thing to watch a man preach "Thus saith the Lord!" when it is apparent that he himself keenly feels the weight of those words, and I highly doubt that God corrects a flock when He hasn't first dealt the shepherd the brunt of the blow.
This is how we begin to see how insignificant talent and skill are. By this, I do not mean that skill in the Word of God is useless. I simply mean that the pastor does not develop his sermon for eloquence. He approaches the Scriptures as one who goes to God, like David, and says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Psalm 139:23-24). Sermons are for the heart, and they are for the whole church, the pastor included. When a man preaches to others, he ought to know first that he preaches to himself. If he should forget this, he will be a poor pastor, and he will become an enemy to the flock and to his own soul besides.
Pastoral ministry is particularly out of step with modern times, and this poses its own challenges to the modern pastor. It is decidedly not a forty hour a week job, and the product which the pastor produces cannot be measured. These two truths are permanently inter-twined. A man never gets a break from the all-seeing gaze of God. David wrote, "You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Ps. 139:2-4). The primary responsibility for the pastor is to walk humbly with his God and to bare himself unflinchingly every moment to the light of God's grace. Every action must be measured; every word must be weighed. Everything that he does must be done to display God's worth, even when he sits to eat. A pastor who opens himself to the scrutiny of God will not falter under the scrutiny of man.
This is slow, necessary, and lonely work The pastor must place himself under the discipline of the Lord; he must feel the weight of his yoke upon him. And when the pastor sees that his own sin is deep and odious, and when he finds that the chastening stripes of the Lord are gentle and loving, then he will be prepared to face the flock of the Lord in a right spirit. Oh how naive is the thought that learning Greek and parsing verbs is the major portion of sermon preparation! People often ask me how long it takes to prepare for a sermon. I often say, "It has taken me my entire life." We usually both laugh at that, but I could not be more sincere.
I have not touched on how the title of "pastor" will cause others to treat you differently, and it will hinder genuine relationships as much as it helps. Maybe some day I'll write on those aspects, but this post is already too long. I am very grateful that God has given me the privilege to pastor, and I hope that if you are a believer reading this, you will take a moment to pray for your own pastor as he seeks to love both you and Lord with all of his might.
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