The Joy of Pastoral Ministry
Peter Drucker, the late business and leadership guru, once said that the four most difficult jobs in America are the President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. The Apostle Paul wouldn't have any idea what you were talking about if you mentioned the first three positions on that list, but I strongly suspect he would concur with Drucker's analysis of the last one. None who have ever served in pastoral ministry could say that the job is easy. Poor pay (the prosperity gospel/televangelists aside), long hours spent counseling parishioners dealing with the collateral damage of their sin, walking with and caring for people in the darkest days of life, navigating the dangerous waters of popular "opinions" among church members, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Paul Tripp calls the role of a pastor a "dangerous calling."
If it's so awful, why does anyone do it??? Not every "pastor" serves for the right reasons, and more times than not, that truth reveals itself, given enough time. But for the ones who do, Paul's words in this week's scripture lesson from his letter to the Colossians shed much light on the joy (yes, I said joy) of the calling to pastoral ministry. For all of the struggles that come along with the office of elder, none compares to the distinct honor and joyfulness that comes with being counted worthy by God, and with the affirmation of the Church, to steward well the deposit that has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1). We are above all else, ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our calling.
Drucker clearly saw the laundry list of difficulties that pastors face day in and day out and made the assessment, that's one tough gig! But what gets lost in such an assessment is the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain his children in the face of adversity as they seek to be obedient in accomplishing the work set before them. If I was trying to serve the church by my own power, in my own strength, and with only my own sinful tendencies and motivations to guide me; I'd derail my life and ministry in a matter of minutes. I'm far from worthy of the title...but thank God there is one who is more than worthy, and he is living and working in and through me (see verse 29).
The joy of pastoral ministry isn't simply in the sermons you get to preach, the wedding ceremonies you get to preside over, the baptisms you get to perform, or the babies you get to dedicate to the Lord; although those are all wonderful things. The true joy is found in seeing the seeds that you work so diligently to sow and care for; take root, grow to maturity, and bear good fruit. Seeing disciples formed by the power of God's word and seeing them grow in grace is the return on our investment of time and energy that we long and toil to see. It is worth more than gold.
Paul, like any good pastor, loved the church...not in a passive, nominal way; but rather in an active, desperate, all-in kind of way. It's this love that fueled everything he did, and we can see it expressed in his letters. It's the kind of love that we have been shown in Christ. The kind of love that will lay aside self-interest and willingly sacrifice everything for the sake of another. It's the kind of love that will step into someone else's mess and lovingly seek to lead them out of the muck and the mire. On our best day, we fall woefully short in loving others as Christ has loved us, but there is beauty in the struggle.
In the first few verses of chapter 2, Paul writes:
"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ."
In his message, Cody challenged us to identify the "benefits" that we see listed in these verses for Paul's struggle to make the word of God fully known to those under his care. Among them are encouragement, unity in love, assurance, understanding/knowledge/wisdom, spiritual wealth, and protection from error. That's a lot of benefits! We all receive a great reward when a pastor, like Paul, rejoices in his calling to faithfully and sacrificially serve the Church. Have you hugged a pastor today!?!?
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 4 - Making The Word of God Fully Known
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. What is "lacking" in the afflictions of Christ?
2. How do believers share in the sufferings of Christ?
3. What are the consequences of making the word of God fully known?