Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Pet. 5:2)
Becoming a pastor is not real hard. It’s being a pastor that is hard
“Becoming a minister is easy. At the very most, you will need multiple years of theological training at great financial, mental and emotional expense to you and your family, an official approval from your denomination’s ordination committee or assessment council, and a divine call from God. Piece of cake. It’s being a pastor that is harder than all get out.” (p. 24)
“Pastoral ministry is a trove of glories and deaths. It is the kind of cross taking nothing can prepare you for except just doing it. “(p.24)
I remember John Piper speaking during chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said something to the effect, “If you have thin skin, don’t go into the ministry.” I was young, I was idealistic, and I had no real idea what he meant. (You would think I would know what it is truly like after growing up as a PK.) After 12 years of ‘full-time’ ministry I get it. This calling is simultaneously amazing and painful… “a trove of glories and deaths” is a good description.
Self-pity is not the answer
“And yet, let’s not overthink it, brothers. Let us not think more highly of ourselves that we ought. Oh, we poor pitiful pastors, we sorry lot, we put-on unprevailers! We special class, whatever will we do with ourselves? We can nail self-pity to the cross, first off.” (p.25)
Self-pity is a subtle form of pride. I don’t deserve this. All I do is serve others. Self-pity is just thinking more highly of ourselves than we should and freakin out that others don’t see us for who we are. I have dabbled in self-pity a time or two. I know what it is like.
Enter the leadership cult
So what are we pastors going to do about it? Ministry is not easy, then again it was never portrayed as easy in the pages of scripture.
“Enter the leadership cult. What we need is know-how, the publishing Powers-That-Be reason. We lack skills, practical helps, and insider tips, and they’ve got just the evangelical gurus to deliver the goods. Don’t you want to leverage your synergy and catalyze your visioneering? Don’t you want to know the seven highly effective and irrefutable laws of unlocking the mystery of who moved your cheese’s parachute? Are you a starfish or a spider? This is all the key to revealing the quality ministry hidden inside of you and to taking your church to a whole ‘nother level. Whatever that means.” (p. 27)
My interpretation of what Wilson is saying? Much of what is written today about church leadership is good for kindling; that’s about it. As leaders we do need to have a vision for the church we lead. But the vision, at the end of the day, is not too terribly complicated. Immerse everything you do in the gospel, live in deep community and commit to the mission of making disciples. If the leadership book is not pointing me deeper into the truths of the gospel I’m not interested.
Shepherd the flock that is among you
OK. So let’s say that things at the church where you pastor are not…ideal. You want to move in a missional (think Acts) direction but your church has lost sight of what it means to truly be a gospel movement. What do you do?
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Pet. 5:2) “And let’s not miss the importance of the seemingly obvious phrase ‘that is among you’. We frequently find ourselves trying to shepherd the flock of God that we want, the one we imagine them to be, the one we want them to be. But God through Peter commands us to shepherd the church we’ve actually got. Pastor, the people you currently have in your congregation are those whom God in his wisdom has dispensed to you. They might not be the people you’d handpick if you had your druthers, but be measured by the fact that God handpicked you to be a citizen of his kingdom. What on earth was he thinking?” (p. 30)
It is natural and good for leaders in the church to desire and work towards change. In fact, many churches today do need to grow from a Sunday morning event to a gospel movement seven days a week. Change is needed. The problem is when people don’t change as fast as the leaders think they should. Imagine how frustrated we would have been leading the twelve disciples? I would have killed Peter. Jesus was incredibly patient and loved them right where they were at. Great challenge for pastors today.
Don’t settle for successful ministry
I have agonized, literally, over what it means to be successful in ministry. I have blogged about it, discussed it with the elders in my church and with other pastors. Successful ministry can quickly become an idol that we are bowing down to if we are not careful.
“Don’t settle for the false heaven of a ‘successful ministry.’ Because real success is faithfulness. Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church-all churches are epic successes full of eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sides of the veil only to those who reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches.” (p. 37-38)
What makes a pastor truly free?
This part, I believe, is the heart of the book. Where do pastor’s go to get a sense of approval in the work that they are doing? I usually go to all the wrong places.
“Pastor, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links? In our podcast downloads? In a book deal or speaking engagement? In our own sense in a job well done? This is sand. Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and birthed in you, yours irrevocably, sealed and guaranteed through both your successes and your failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified. Brother, you are free.” (p. 39)
I really need to start EVERYDAY reciting these gospel truths! I usually live and act as if the success of the church is riding on me. How prideful. Besides that the weight is unbearable. All too often I am looking for approval from people and outward signs of success and I forget that in Christ I am perfectly approved and loved.