9.17.2014

DON'T BE A PASTOR IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE A PASTOR

 In his book, "A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural," Wendell Berry writes,
Because of the obsession with short-term results that may be contained with the terms and demands of a single life, the interest of community is displaced by the interest of career.  The careerist teacher judges himself, and is judged by his colleagues, not by the influence he is having upon his students or the community, but by the number of his publications, the size of his salary and the status of the place to which his career has taken him thus far.  And in ambition he is where he is only temporarily; he is on his way to a more lucrative and prestigious place. Because so few stay to be aware of the effects of their works, teachers are not judged by their teaching, but by the short-term incidentals of publication and “service.” That teaching is a long-term service, that a teacher’s best work may be published in the children of grandchildren of his students, cannot be considered, for the modern educator, like his practical brethren in business and industry, will honor nothing that he cannot see.
I can't imagine a greater caution for those entering into Christian ministry (especially the Reformed pastorate) than to apply what Berry is saying to our context. Consider the painful application. Like modern teachers, pastors today are driven by short-term results. We are most concerned with being judged by ourselves and our colleagues as wise, intellectual, and accomplished. The ministry today is no longer driven by concern for the spiritual lives of our people, but instead, it's become a career, a platform for our own personal advancement. The ministry has become a stepping stone to the next and better thing, something more "lucrative and and prestigious." This manifests itself in constant restlessness. We're not really satisfied.  We look over the fence constantly to the bigger and better.

All of this creates a disconnect between what is a calling from God and our own aspirations of what we want ministry to be. What is lost is the sense from the people that we pastors love the sheep, are in it for the sheep, that we are servants given as sacrifices for the service of their faith.  Because of our displaced motives, our pastoral work is no longer judged by the nature of what constitutes pastoral work. The consequence of this lack of investment in people's lives is apparent, we now live in a generation that measures and judges our pastoral work by the "short term incidentals"of our publications and accomplishments, as we justify our displaced aspirations in the advancement of our names under the guise of "service." Does this mean that all incidentals are wrong? Of course not. But the motivations of our service should be checked as to whether they are an investment in us or the sacrificial love we are called to demonstrate to Christ's sheep.

What most interests me here is Berry's astute observation that teaching is a long-term service that the modern interpreter will never appreciate since he cannot see the results.  Berry says the best work of teachers is published in the "children of grandchildren in students." Oh that we would think of ministry this way!  This means, of course, that long-term investment in people's lives will often seem unsuccessful and lackluster, and will receive little approbation from a church world obsessed with numbers and immediate gratification. If God gives us to see some of the fruit of our pastoral labor in this life, then we should praise him for his kind providence. But our best work will be known tomorrow. Our faithfulness will be known in the generations to come, after we are dead and gone. This is God's way of doing ministry. It makes sense. This way glory goes to him as our motives remain challenged.

Pastors who adopt this modern paradigm for their ministry, dependent on being sustained by their big name, personality, and so-called "service," lacking any real investment in the lives of the people, tend to fall as quickly as they rose to power. This is, in my estimation, happening right now to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church.

So I humbly caution those entering into the pastoral ministry. Brothers, we're not careerists. Are you in this for the up building of Christ's church, realizing that you may never live to see the results of your work, or are you in it to make a great name for yourself today?

Don't be a pastor, if you don't want to be a pastor.