Friday, May 30, 2008

The Challenge of Ministry

Ever since becoming a pastor I've been challenged spiritually in ways that I hadn't been before. I think this is because having the responsibility to lead other Christians makes me much more aware of my own weaknesses and flaws. So if there are ways that I have still to grow spiritually, I can't very well help others grow in that way. I can't lead anyone where I haven't been.

The challenge is that perhaps as a pastor I feel more than other Christians the responsibility to grow spiritually and work on my relationship with God not only for my own sake but for the sake of others. For if as a pastor I am not growing in my own spiritual walk, if I am not active in prayer, Bible study, etc., then this will have an effect on people in my congregation. It will show up in my preaching, in my ability to minister to them spiritually, and in my attempts to build up the ministries of the church and provide leadership. If I were just another person in the pew, so to speak, I could neglect my own faith without others experiencing detrimental effects to theirs. Or so I could think.

Well, I do think so, at least to some extent, but I don't want to give the impression that pastors are a class apart from other believers. I don't want to give the impression that pastors intrinsically have more influence on other Christians than other Christians. Truth be told, probably in a lot of cases I have less influence on the people in my church than they have on one another. And if this is so, then that is as it should be in the body of Christ.

But I suppose that as a pastor I have more influence than other Christians in our congregation on the general direction, tone, sense of mission, and overall atmosphere of our church community. That can be a heavy responsibility. And given that, just like any believer, I have my own spiritual weaknesses, failings, spiritual blindspots, and more persistent temptations, there are moments when I feel the weight of it even more profoundly.

In no other vocation is personal faith so tied to one's daily responsibilities. While most Christians can go to their respective jobs and workplaces without bringing their faith directly into the picture, as a pastor there is less of a clear demarcation line between the personal and professional. They spill over into one another.

This isn't also to say that Christians who pursue other careers, jobs, employment, etc., aren't supposed to allow their faith to shine through in their relationships with co-workers and employers, but odds are they can perform their jobs just as effectively whether they do so or not. The skill set required of their position doesn't likely include prayer and biblical exegesis!

For as a pastor my primary responsibility is to devote myself to prayer and Scripture study. These two practices ought to form a large part of my "work-week." Yet if I wasn't a pastor, as a believer prayer and reading my Bible would still be a part of my daily life. It's just that I would have to work around a pre-existing job schedule. I'd have to find time for these things outside my work hours. As it is, prayer and Bible study are a part of my nine-to-five. That in itself distinguishes me as a pastor from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Getting back to where I started, such a vocation is a spiritual challenge precisely because a personal spiritual walk is a challenge; and they are both challenges in similar ways. And even the significant distinguishing characteristic, that I pray as a part of my nine-to-five and others prayer in addition to their nine-to-five, isn't that significant after all.

I just mean that since every Christian is a member of the body of Christ, we are all responsible for one another's spiritual growth. As Paul says, we are "members of one another." To that end, we're all ministers. There is no lay person-clergy distinction. There is, but only in terms of spiritual function and level of spiritual maturity. But we are all charged with the job of helping each other follow Jesus more faithfully.

The challenge I feel as a pastor in my own spiritual walk is one that should be common to us all. It's just that as a pastor that sense of responsibility has been thrown into sharp relief. It's more pronounced is all, because it's both whom I am and what I do. If other believers in any given congregation don't feel this challenge in some measure -- a challenge to grow in their faith and to help others grow likewise -- then this speaks to their own relationship with God, and not necessarily in a positive way. Life throws lots of roadblocks and potholes in our way as we travel on the highway of faith, and sometimes this means we sidestep these challenges and instead decide simply to get along with a bare minimum. But of course, Peter tells us to "make every effort." Though the formation of Christian character and the maturation of disciples takes place through in the power of the Spirit, the Spirit can accomplish nothing of value in our lives if we are not willing to cooperate.

So I think what I said at the beginning isn't true. Not exactly. Yes, there are challenges specific to pastoral ministry. But I've always been challenged in the ways I've been talking about this whole -- challenged to pray more consistently, to read Scripture more faithfully, to follow Jesus more obediently -- and as a pastor I think I've just found that I've been challenged in these areas more deeply and more profoundly. I can't quite explain it. But, again, all Christians are rightfully challenged in these areas. Maybe as a pastor I just find myself face to face with these challenges in way that is unique to this vocation in finding myself straddling that divide between personal and professional.

As one fellow blogger often puts it, enough rambling.

Sorry, no pictures.


Zirbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zirbert said...

Pastor Derek wrote:
"As one fellow blogger often puts it, enough rambling.

Sorry, no pictures."

Pastor Derek?

My lawyer's on line two waiting to speak to you.