Reflecting on Pastoral Ministry 10 Years In (Part 1)

Earlier this week, I had an assignment for my last class at Biblical and it got me reminiscing on the idea of the call of pastoral ministry and my evolving understanding of it. For the sake of context, I wrote this on a normal day, not frustrated, not high on life, just a normal day.  (I even edited on a normal day too). It is not an indication of my current mental state – just a reflection. If you are not already, I encourage you to journal and reflect too – it’s a great excercise.

As every pastor knows, the ministry is a fairly complicated vocation. I used to believe that the if one knew the Scriptures, could speak well in public and was grounded in prayer then one could be a pastor. If they were a “really good” one, then he had relational skills, a sense of humor and a working knowledge of relevant things like world events and sports. If one were to be exceptional, then he was able to write, counsel, problem solve and had virtues like wisdom and patience. I feel that described the apostle Paul, only without the sense of humor.

Looking back, my idea of the pastorate was fairly shallow back then and I fear in some ways, that it still may be. (For one, I am no longer only using the word “he” exclusively anymore to describe the pastorate ;-). If it were not for the last ten years of ministry, I am not sure I would ever have believed someone had they told me how difficult this career really was. From the outside looking in, it looks fairly manageable for anyone emotionally healthy and had adequate organizational skills. The most difficult part of the job seemed to come up with new material week and after week but surely that had to be rewarded by the constant praise the congregation would give in the forms of applause, compliments, gift cards, and various expressions of admiration! Man, was I surprised.

I remember still being a junior in undergrad when a veteran senior pastor took me out for lunch and tried to talk me out of the entering the ministry. At least that is what it initially seemed like. Given my stubborn nature, we needed to go for a walk afterwards so he could continue the intervention. There was a part of me that resented him for saying all that he did, a small part that appreciated it in case he was right but the bigger part interpreted as a test or a rite of passage and I was determined to stand strong. After enduring the barrage and expressing my unshakable belief that I was called to be a pastor, he embraced me, told me he was proud, and prayed for me. It would probably take five years before I remembered this conversation had ever taken place.

It’s interesting to me that since then I have had quite a few conversations with people considering going into vocational ministry. Frankly we need more pastors, especially when the older boomers begin to retire. In these conversations I try to lay out the challenges and the pains endured in ministry but I also try to express the fulfillment and the joy of it as well. Because to be honest, I thank God that He has allowed me this position.

There are numerous directions one can take when discussing the hardships of ministry and I know I am certainly not the only one with a difficult job (There are a few things that make the ministry unique however but let us not get into that here ;-). From the time commitment, to the hectic schedules to the toll it takes on one’s family, it is a difficult life. Factor in the criticism, the constant power struggles and the insecurities that reveal themselves and one begins to see how taxing on the emotions this vocation can be. I used to think pastoring was preaching and teaching the Word, then later I added the term, ‘leadership’, now I see it as those and culture-making. The pastor must create a healthy culture of discipleship in his local church community in order to preach the Gospel in the Kingdom. Most of us know by now that the Sunday sermon is not enough and that the pastorate is much more than that these days. May God forgive us for the times we have been unfaithful to the calling because while it is complicated – It has always been about people. Part 2 some day.


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