Archives For pastoral ministry

Lessons Learned in Pastoral Ministry

Greg Strand – January 9, 2014 Leave a comment

One aspect of wisdom is learning vicariously. Blessed is the one who can learn from the successes and failures of others. This is not the only way we learn, and sometimes not even the best way. But it is one important way we learn, and woe be to the one who does not learn some things in this way.

Learning through personal experience is an important way to learn as well. But if that is the only way one learns, life and growth will be a huge challenge as it reflects, I believe, perpetual immaturity. Furthermore, for those who live with one who only learns vicariously, life becomes extremely difficult and challenging. One cannot read Proverbs without drawing these conclusions.

This is why I read with interest the reflections from two who have been engaged in pastoral ministry for 35 and 40 years. Though I am not a young man any longer, I still long to learn from others. In the first article, Tom Ascol writes of “35 lessons from 35 years as a pastor.” In the second, Sam Storms writes from where he is at present and what he has learned and states it as “What I Wish I’d Known: Reflections on Nearly 40 Years of Pastoral Ministry.

I commend these to you, all of you (including me), but especially to those who are at the beginning stages of ministry. There is much to ponder and pray over.

May you, by God’s grace, learn some of these lessons vicariously. And when you will inevitably learn some of them experientially, may you humbly walk through the experiences keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) so that you are progressively transformed (2 Cor. 3:18) and conformed into the likeness of the Son (Rom. 8:29).

Yesterday I promised a few follow up thoughts from the interview with Paul David Tripp on his book. All Christians are called, first and foremost, to God in salvation. Moreover, all Christians are called, secondly and necessarily, to serve God in their respective vocational callings. For the Christian there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular as we do all by God’s grace, for God’s glory and the good of people. There are differences, however, in the how, not the why, of those various vocational callings. That is one of the issues Tripp addresses.

Regarding the uniqueness of pastoral ministry, here are three follow up matters to Tripp’s interview (and excellent book):  vocational calling; friends; and sanctification.

Vocational Ministry. One of the unique aspects of a calling to and gifting for vocational ministry is that one generally gives all of one’s time to ministry in, to and with the church, the people of God. For others who are serving God in the church in a non-vocational capacity, i.e. in a non-pastoral role, they spend 40-50 hours in their vocation/job/ministry, and then an additional 5-10 hours are given to ministry directly in, to and with the church. For those in vocational ministry, those additional hours are doing “more of the same,” while for those whose vocation is outside the church those additional hours are doing something different that is more directly involved in the ministry of the Word. This brings with it certain challenges for each person in their respective ministries in the church.

Friends. Some would say that for those in vocational ministry, i.e. a pastor, their closest friends should not be those from the local church where they serve. Some of this may be related to the avoidance of being accused of playing favorites. It might also be for the reason that one will not be hurt through a betrayal or some hurt associated with ministry that affects one’s personal relationship/friendship. I heard this as a possible option when I was in seminary, but my wife and I never did follow that. We believed it was important to have friends in the church. Otherwise it has the feel of the pastor being exempt from what the Bible teaches and what is to be reflective of relationships among others within the church. It also has the feel that the pastor’s relationships are “professional,” that is they are related to ministry only. I believe the pastor is to serve as an example and model about life together in the body of Christ, imperfect as that model is, including relationships with others. With these deep and abiding friendships, one can be hurt deeply. That, however, is part of life in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified existence among God’s people. But it also means that one can experience the depth of relationships God has designed for believers in Christ that is a foretaste of those glorified relationships in heaven.

Sanctification. Spiritual growth happens as one engages in the spiritual disciplines. There is both an individual and corporate aspect to the disciplines. Ultimately, the disciplines in one’s life will be lived or manifested in the context of community. Sanctification never occurs in isolation. Because we are created for, called to and redeemed with others, spiritual growth has a corporate component. In fact, the true test of one’s spiritual growth is evident in life with others, i.e. marriage, Bible study small group, the church. The challenge with this reality from the pastor’s side is that he fears being transparent and vulnerable. He wants to project that he has it all together and does not have the same struggles others have. He is exempt from this sort of need for growth. Granted, these sorts of things ought not to be communicated with everyone, or even shared from the pulpit. But someone ought to be a fellow pilgrim along the way to share sorrows, struggles and joys. Because of expectations placed on pastors, not all know what do with these real-life confessions/struggles, and others will use them against the one who acknowledges the need for ongoing growth and sanctification. Part of the pastor’s fear is how people in the church view this. Often people conclude that the pastor should not have struggles, and if the pastor does, it calls into question the suitability to serve in that role. In other words, what is expected to be the normal means of grace and growth in the life of the believer is not allowed in the life of the pastor. This completely overlooks the biblical teaching on the “one another” commands, which is for all believers (e.g. Rom. 12:10, 16; 15:7; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:32; etc.). Additionally, it ignores/denies the truth that there is an important corporate aspect to our sanctification. The book of Hebrews exhorts us, which is corporate. Often the preacher writes “let us” (Heb. 4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:1, 28; 13:13), and he exhorts us to “encourage one another” to avoid sin (Heb. 3:12-13) and to gather together  (Heb. 10:25).

I close with a few questions for reflection and application.

  1. What do we need to learn?
  2. What do we need to change to reflect the teaching of Scripture?
  3. How will we continue to grow spiritually and vocationally, both individually and corporately?
  4. How does the church understand this, and where do they need to grow?
  5. As pastors, how will we appropriately lead and model simultaneously?

Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

Greg Strand – November 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Paul David Tripp’s recent book has just been released: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

It looks to be an excellent book! Tripp acknowledges in an interview that of all he has written, this has been the hardest book for him to write. The reason?

No book that I’ve written has so successfully exposed the sin, weaknesses, and failures of my own heart. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wrote this book tearfully. The writing was marked over and over again by moments of personal prayer and repentance. I finished the book as a sad celebrant—sad because of the renewed realization of the spiritual war still raging in my heart, yet at the same time celebrating the transforming grace daily lavished on me. Writing this book has renewed my commitment to constantly preach the gospel to myself until the preaching is needed no more.

Tripp addresses the unique challenges those in pastoral ministry face: silence about life, ministry, struggles, and sin; and the need for sanctification which happens in the corporate context of the church.

“My prayer,” you write, “is that this book would get a conversation started that will never stop.” What’s the nature of the conversation you have in mind?

As I’ve traveled around the world engaging pastors in conversation every week, I’ve encountered again and again a fearful wall of silence that surrounds the life, ministry, and struggles of pastors. Many, many pastors live in silence, alienated from the community of care that the church has been designed by God to be. More than once I’ve heard pastors say, “Everybody else in the body of Christ can confess sin, but if I did, I think I would be done.”

Think about it: every pastor is a sinner. Yes, the power of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin remains. This means the culture of silence that so often surrounds the life and ministry of a pastor is a culture that is unbiblical and, frankly, unworkable. All of this is compounded by the fact that churches often call pastors whom they don’t know because they tend to focus on knowledge, theological agreement, ministry experience, and pastoral skill. It’s not irrational to focus on these things, but it simply isn’t enough since a person’s ministry is never shaped by knowledge and skill alone—it’s also always shaped by the condition of his heart.

My hope is that Dangerous Calling would be used by God to break the silence and encourage a ministry culture of humility and candor that begins in seminary. Shouldn’t the gospel community be the most courageously honest community on earth? We believe that there’s nothing that could ever be exposed in us that hasn’t already been covered by the blood of Jesus.

What would you say to the pastor who just feels too busy to let others step over the boundary from public persona to private life?

There’s no indication in the New Testament that a pastor doesn’t need the same sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ that every other believer needs. If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body—including the pastor. Yet, in many churches no one receives less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the one charged with leading that body locally: the pastor.

It is both unbiblical and dangerous for any pastor to live above or outside of the body of Christ. No pastor, then, should allow himself to live so isolated or to be so busy that he has no real connection to the intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community that God has designed the church to be.

Tomorrow I will share a few comments about this aspect of pastoral ministry.