Thursday, September 16, 2010

Off the cuff on pastoral ministry

I read a few pages of Brothers, We are Not Professionals this morning. And I am struck again by how anyone could aspire, attain to pastoral ministry. Piper says of those of us in this vocation - "we do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless". He goes on to list daunting statement after daunting statement - we are to pant after God in prayer. We are to weep over our sin. We are to be God-besotted lovers of Christ. We are afflicted but not crushed, always carrying in our body the death of Jesus. And on it goes. Is there any "professionalism" in any of this? Who is worthy of such a calling?

Elsewhere, Carl Trueman has an interesting trilogy of posts calling the pastor to be a jack-of-all-trades in an age of increasing specialisation and fragmentation. I remember once reading somewhere else where this particular person opined that a pastor should be well-versed not just in biblical studies and theology, but abreast of the latest developments in politics, aware of cultural anthropological and sociological theory, be well-read in the field of bioethics, ready to involve himself in all sorts of socio-political activism etc. etc. Just reading it was exhausting! And obviously unrealistic. Nor does it quite seem to reflect the biblical emphases on the qualifications of pastoral ministry. Nonetheless, it is true that a pastor, as Trueman points out, should at least be seeking to read his context and culture as best as he can, to be aware of current affairs and of history, to be cognisant of a diversity of trends; in other words, to be at least competent over wide subject areas - a GP if not a specialist doctor. And you still have to think. Who is worthy of such a calling?

Then I read Kevin DeYoung's advice to young pastors - part 1 & part 2. It's the sort of common sense we need, Number 4, for instance. That the priorities of the pastor should be proclamation, prayer and people still ring true even if it's not new. OK, so now that sounds simple, right? Then I think of how exhausting it is to plod on, wrestling with exegetical difficulties, stressing over the packaging of that sermon or Bible study, despairing over some theological or ethical Gordion knot. I think of my own prayerlessness. I think over how I could have encouraged that person better, handled that person better, counselled that person better. And the refrain remains: who is worthy of such a calling?

And then I turn to Ed Stetzer's interview with church planter Darrin Patrick. DP laments the fact that "most pastors don't know how to build systems, structures, and processes that are not contingent upon them. Most pastors can care for people, but don't build systems of care. Most pastors can develop leaders individually, but lack the skill to implement a process of leadership development." And I think, hey, wait a minute, that's exactly the sort of thing I'll be weak at! Who is worthy of such a calling?

Then I suddenly hear the music playing softly in the background on my computer.

Spirit of grace, You’ve shed Your light
Upon our darkened eyes, unveiling Jesus Christ
Come change our hearts, conform our ways
To honor Jesus’ Name, His glory our refrain
Let His love compel our own
As we worship at His throne

Only Jesus!...

Who can be in pastoral ministry on his own? Indeed, who can be a Christian on his own? None of us. Only when we derive our identity not from ministry success or some similar thing, but from the fact that we are loved by God and are called his child because of the death of His Son, only then can we go on. Who is worthy of such a calling? Only Jesus. And therefore, only because of Jesus can we be counted similarly worthy.

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