Pastor. There’s so much associated with that word: shepherd, overseer, servant, leader, visionary, spiritual guide, teacher, and prophet just to name a few. I remember when God called me to be a pastor. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor staring at the ceiling with tears in my eyes on a cold night in 1997. What a journey it’s been since that time.
Becoming a pastor was the farthest thing from my mind. I never planned to be a pastor. I had very little inclination toward being a pastor. In fact, I had a lot of plans, but “pastor” wasn’t one of them. Then, suddenly the time arrived, and there it was: I answered the call to become a pastor. Now, I can’t imagine not being a pastor. It’s like I never knew what I wanted to be until I became what I was supposed to be.
During the process of becoming a minister I didn’t know I was becoming the person I am today. For my own formation as a pastor, every step along the way was a much-needed part of the journey. Being a pastor is a learning process. Those that are unteachable often fail to remain faithful in ministry. You can’t learn anymore if you’ve already arrived. Part of being an effective minister means being faithful in the moment and learning from every situation.
Too many pastors spend their time either thinking about the past or dreaming about future. They’ve never learned to exist in the present. The inability to live in the moment robs so many people of the little God-moments along the way. Learning to be grateful for what God is doing right now is a discipline. And although God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, walking with Christ is an ever-changing adventure.
Men and women who are pastors in American culture today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. These leaders seek first success and ask God to bless their endeavors later. We forget that pastoring is an ancient practice. We don’t have to reinvent it every time someone writes a new book.
I love America, but I don’t care for “the American way.” The values of this country is based on consumerism and success, not servanthood and sacrifice. Consumerism has made its way into the church and it treats God as a commodity to be promoted. In an age of marketing and strategy we dehumanize people, turning them into giving units and statistics instead of living beings.
With this modern understanding comes a competitive spirit that causes us to treat one another as rivals. We forget that we are all on the same team working for the same King. This consumerist mindset causes many pastors to become disappointed and disillusioned with their congregations. An authentic spiritual leader cannot survive in this climate for very long. I wonder if at the root of the issue is a cultural assumption that all great pastors are “movers and shakers,” people who get things done and make things happen. This is certainly true of the leadership models that trickle into our awareness from modern culture: politicians, businessmen, advertisers, celebrities, athletes, etc.
While being a pastor certainly has some components of leadership as seen in our present society, the pervasive element in our 2000 year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done,” but rather the person placed in the community to be a prophetic voice. A pastor is someone who calls attention to what is going on in the world and what our response before God should be. Being passionately faithful to that is more important than anything else we can do in ministry.
In my current position (superintendent, bishop, a pastor to pastors), I hope to provide a new sense of dignity and worth to this ancient calling. Along the way, I want to insist that there is no one-size-fits-all model for becoming a successful pastor other than being true to the call. God calls every pastor to be the most genuine version of themselves that they can possibly be. There are no shortcuts, no imitating, no gimmicks, and no trying to do it on your own. There is just faithfulness. Be faithful.
(Source: The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Peterson)