Lessons as a Pastor

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

9 replies
  1. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    “I laugh at myself realizing that it took my becoming a pastor to realize what it was to be a Christian!”

    So very true.

    I find it interesting how difficult it is to help a potential pastor recognize that the ordination they desire so much changes little more than how the IRS handles their taxes. Or that when I’m asked, “How do I become a pastor?” and I answer “be a Christian” I get such a blank stare.

    Great thoughts Gunnar.

    • Gunnar Hanson
      Gunnar Hanson says:

      Good word. I wasn’t asking those questions before I was ordained! 🙂 I was resisting the Lord’s leading into the ministry…I just wanted to serve. Being a pastor has placed a sort of accountability over my actions as a Christian. I think God has called me into this role to force me into His Word and to walk with Him in obedience…things I would be lazy about if not in this role!

  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Good word Gunnar. I pray that love would always be the first and he driving factor as I serve.
    Love over duty. It doesn’t always start that way when things come up, but I am thankful that as I obey sometimes out of duty, the love catches up and takes over.

    Still growing here, that’s for sure.
    Good word.

  3. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Thanks for that, Gunnar. We NEED these reminders!

    Miles, your word to wannabe pastors is perfect.

    Personally, I also thank God because at times, being a pastor has helped me focus on being a Christian!

    I’ll be chewing on these words all day, Gunnar. Good word.

  4. Mike Neglia
    Mike Neglia says:

    This was a great post. My congregation is pretty young and healthy for the most part. We’ve had some scares and hospital visits to be sure over the years, but I have yet to officiate my first funeral.
    Sometimes I can be a bit anxious about it; I’ve thought “What will I do when I get that call or text that tells me that a member of the congregation has passed?” Your answer (and Miles’ summary of it) is so correct; just be a Christian! Thanks for the reminder.

    On another note; YOU are seal pastor? My pastor back in Fallbrook has referenced your blog a couple times in conversation, but I never made the connection between that blog and crossconnection! Funny!

    • Gunnar Hanson
      Gunnar Hanson says:

      Yes, I am “SEAL Pastor”! Busted. 🙂 Barry and I are good friends through the Sheriff’s chaplaincy.

      There is something very intimate about the dying process. We are invited in to a very heavy chapter in people’s lives. I think it is more about the “Ministry of Presence” as I have heard Swindoll reference it. I am always encouraged by John 11:35 where Jesus wept. I get so choked up at these things either seeing the pain of death, or from the joy of a saint who has graduated!

      Don’t worry, God will give you grace on the day you a called to minister that day.

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