It was one of those nights that I will never forget. I had spent the evening with a wife who had lost her husband to a very extended battle with cancer. We sat there next to the body of her husband until the mortuary could come pick up his remains. We prayed, we cried, we drank tea, memories were shared and we laughed. There is something very intimate about these moments in the calling of a pastor. To give a hug to a widow, or mother, or friend while the remains of their loved one’s remains lie there in your presence is an intimate experience that exceeds my ability to articulate.
Driving home that night in the wee hours of the morning was surreal. My thoughts raced and I began to decompress the emotions of that night’s events now that I was “off duty” and heading home. All was quiet and the streets were empty. As I reflected on life a thought dawned on me, “I was not there tonight because I am a pastor, but I was there because of my love for this family as a Christian.” This thought struck me and has stuck with me ever since. Pastor, have you come to realize that you are involved with ministry not because you are a pastor, but because you are a follower of Christ? As I read my words, I feel like this is a simple truth that shouldn’t hit me so hard–but it does.
I wasn’t raised in the church and I was sort of grafted in as an adult. I find the more I grow in my relationship with Christ and knowledge of the Word, the more I see how far off base I was early on. Today, I fully understand that ministry is for Christians. But early on I felt that it was something reserved for pastors and those who were called. I longed for ministry, but always felt unable to serve as I served in the military. This feeling grew and I served as I could, ultimately feeling that God was calling me to serve full time in the vocational ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I am so blessed and so privileged to serve in this capacity. I love that God provides for me to do what I love to do! But I laugh at myself realizing that it took my becoming a pastor to realize what it was to be a Christian!
In being a pastor, the greatest lesson I have learned is what it is to be a Christian. This may seem silly to you (it does to me), but I think this is an area that the church has missed the mark in many respects. I have no intention in being critical of the church at large, but I think this point is important for us as pastors to hammer home to our flock. Namely, followers of Christ are designed to serve. Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Paul continues to share our role as pastors in this in Ephesians 4:11-12, “And He gave some as…pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [ministry], to the building up of the body of Christ.” Clearly followers of Christ mature through service. The pastor’s calling is to enable Christ’s followers to this end.
Pastor, encourage your flock to serve Christ by following your example as a Christian (this is what Paul did 1 Cor. 11:1) and through your teaching as a pastor! Keep your heart in check. I would caution you if you actions are done because “this is your job.” We love and shepherd not because we are professionals, but because we are followers of Christ!
As a post script: Since I wrote this, I had another such incident at 3am on Christmas morning. You can read about my additional thoughts here: SEALPastor.Blogspot.com