How many times I've heard it said, "The church pastor is the most important person in our organization!" But sad to say, I've also heard it said of a president or departmental leader who has not been reelected, "Oh, isn't it sad? Pastor ———— has been dropped." (It's sadder still when the dropped pastor weeps at his "demotion.") I've also heard it stated, "We must find a place for Pastor ———— ." As if an appointment to a church pastorate wasn't a place! In such an atmosphere, can we blame the local pastor for becoming cynical when he sees a power struggle in the church, a ladder with rungs of promotion and demotion?
There is no grander, more exhilarating work than personally sharing God's grace with desperate, hurting people, to see them healed, to see them laugh again. Every minister, whether church pastor, administrator, or departmental director, should view this as his lifework. A departmental leader today, a church pastor tomorrow? That's not demotion; that's promotion! We need to give this philosophy more than lip service. We must really believe it.
The church pastor has an awesome role, but it's a role that by the grace of God he can fulfill when motivated by the Holy Spirit. The immensity of the task, how ever, demands that, the pastor get his priorities straight. If he fails to do this, he will fail to see the importance of his work as a church pastor and come to believe that it is indeed more desirable to fill some other position. If the church pastorate is really the most important, most responsible, ministry possible in God's church, we need to keep this fact in mind and be sure that we conduct our ministry in such a way that we sustain the high nature of our calling. How can we do this?
After thirty-six years of ministry, I prayerfully submit the following suggestions from the school of hard knocks. Some of the blows I received in that school nearly put me out for the "count out." Often in ignorance or stupidity I blotted the record. But through it all God loved, forgave, and led. Here are my suggestions for maintaining the pastorate as the most important calling in God's church:
1. Read daily the positive affirmations of God's Word. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). There is nothing worse than a pessimistic pastor. Pastor Robert Hare, pioneer Adventist preacher, prayed, "Take away my misty-optic and give me an opti-mistic!"
2. Pray to your Heavenly Father as a friend. Here is no room for formality. Know as you pray that when you need God, He is near. When we look for God, He is there. And wherever we may go, God can always be found.
3. Develop your expertise. Never be satisfied with past achievements. Constantly brush up your preaching style. Seek the advice of specialists on speech training, sermon preparation, et cetera. A classic inspiring sermon is remembered longer. It's not a shameful thing to be a professional.
4. Beware of the ego trip. Know that God can do without you, but that He doesn't want to.
The pastor on an ego trip loves his wife, but neglects her; loves his children, but hasn't time to play with them; loves his work, but doesn't know the meaning of relaxation. Possibly the greatest danger facing a minister is right here. He consoles himself that he is doing God's work, therefore his wife and children will under stand. But it just doesn't work that way. It's an ego trip. The compassionate pastor who relates to his members, the discerning pastor who is alert to the youth of his congregation, the pastor who can talk about the joys of married love, is the pastor who knows from his own experience, from the security and love of his own home and family, what compassion, spiritual discernment, and quality of life are all about.
Sometimes it's more important to spend time with your family than to share your faith with others. The faith you share will be diminished if it's not illuminated by constant family dialogue. Plan for holidays—a day each week or two—as well as vacations, and let nothing cancel these family appointments. Sure, there will be occasions when you just can't take this time, but if your priorities are straight, they will be few and far between.
5. Take time for culture. Those who truly love God become sensitive and aware of the beauty that surrounds us—the beauty of nature, of music, of art, of the fabric of history. There's much to explore, to discover, and make your own. My father taught me to look at a tree for an hour and still find beauty there.
6. Relate to people everywhere. Appreciate their point of view. Take an interest in their hopes and aspirations. Find common ground for discussion. Your pursuit of culture will help you here. The introverted Seventh-day Adventist social circle can be very limiting. And yet the genuine Seventh-day Adventist Christian will be a person of charm and quiet dignity and of fun and laughter, too.
7. Remember that a one-to-one relationship is often more meaningful than mass encounters. Nowhere is this more apparent than in working for youth. Follow Christ's example here. Suffer the children to come. Visit them in their homes. A pastor knocked on my door once. I greeted him with enthusiasm. He responded, "I haven't come to see you, I've come to see your daughter." He was a very busy pastor. He conducted a baptismal class at the school. My daughter studied with the group, but this man gave individual studies to everyone in his class. I also happened to know that this concern and thoroughness carried over into other aspects of his ministry.
8. Beware of being exclusive. Early in my ministry I was taught a valuable lesson: Don't exclude the man of the house.
"What if he throws me out?" I asked the mission leader. "The men seldom do," he responded. In fact, they never did, and many an "enemy" became a friend. If you are asked to study the Bible with a married woman, always, always, look up the man of the house. If he's way out in the backyard digging in the vegetable patch, go out of your way to say Hello. Discover his interests and relate as a friend.
9. Don't take yourself too seriously. A smile is far better than a frown, even if the laugh is on you. Easier said than done? Give it a try anyhow.
On the same theme, don't just play a role. Your calling is high, but your ordination doesn't make you any more important than anyone else, only a greater debtor. Don't stand on your dignity and demand attention because of your position. There is no need to confess your sins publicly, but on the other hand, it doesn't hurt a bit for people to see you as an ordinary person with the same fears, weaknesses, and doubts that assail all mankind. And if you're in the wrong, admit it. It will build you up, not tear you down. People will seek you out for advice and help if they sense you are a genuine, loving Christian.
I believe in the great truths that have made this church of the Advent a distinct and forceful movement. But never forget 1 Corinthians 13. Our people are desperate for the knowledge that God loves and forgives and gives to us all peace and happiness if we will only let Him. God's genuine servants will demonstrate this power by the conviction of their preaching and the practice of their daily life—not because they are perfect, but simply because they are genuine and sincere Christians.
10. Forsake all to follow Him. We need to remind ourselves daily of the total dedication of the disciples who left every thing for their Master. It sometimes appears to our lay brethren that we are more interested in building houses here than preparing for mansions in heaven. What if we can't make ends meet on our budget? What if things are really rough? If this is our situation, there may be many factors, but perhaps we ought to take another look and rethink our priorities. Ours is a commitment, a giving, a life of sacrifice and service.
Ours is not just a job. It's a way of life. And in that role you, as a church pastor, are number one.