I was ordained to the pastorate in 2010 although I had been serving in campus ministry since 2004. Of all my ministry roles, being the pastor of a local church has been the most enjoyable and also the most challenging. Effective pastoral ministry in 2022 looks very different from what I expected when I graduated with the Master of Divinity in 2002.
In the early 2000s we believed that the best days were ahead of the church. And I entered ministry with a naive belief that my “trajectory” would onwards and upwards. It seemed to me that effective ministry was pretty simple. Preach well. Administrate well. Run good programs. That’s it.
Ministers like me made a fundamental mistake. We failed to see the structural weaknesses in our model of Christian formation. And as a result, we placed our confidence in a way of being Christian that failed to withstand the cultural cross-currents of a postmodern society.
If I was entering seminary today, here are five characteristics I would cultivate in my youngers self.
- Be rooted.
- Be patient.
- Be curious.
- Be humble.
- Be grateful.
Be rooted. Any pastor needs to be immersed in a tradition–a way of being Christian–that is deeper and older than his personal experience. Making up “ways of doing church” is a burden that God has not asked pastors to bear.
Those of us rooted in the Reformed tradition, we have received a very simple model of ministry. Pastors are the stewards of God’s mysteries made visible in the means of grace. Pastoring is never less than walking with people as they pray, read the Bible, and receive the Lord’s Supper. That’s the foundation. Every pastoral moment occurs because the table has been set by the experience of grace.
Be patient. More. Bigger. Faster. That’s what we want as contemporary world citizens. The kingdom is rarely quick and efficient. And when we find ourselves, as pastors, wishing to more, bigger, and faster, it is often accompanied by resentment toward our church members for not getting with the program to make it happen.
Be curious. One of the best gifts a pastor can give is to make someone feel heard, known, understood. That can only come from an honest curiosity about the people we’re in relationship with. We’ve all been in conversations with pastors where the “get to know you” was a pro forma recitation of basic data–name, occupation, etc. To pastor someone you need to know their story, and that sort of knowlege takes time and leisure.
Be humble. Pastoral ministry will humble you. And if you’re not humble in advance, you’ll get mad. Work to cultivate humility by reminding yourself of Christ’s emptying of himself in order to redeem us.
Be grateful. Pastoral ministry is a gift of God’s grace. And what makes grace, grace is that it is unearned. There are all kinds of trials in the life of a pastor, but in the end it is a gift.