God has chosen to give different assignments to those in different forms of ministry. There were the apostles those sent out directly by Christ as His ambassadors. There are prophets—those who speak for God and sometimes reveal the future to His people. Evangelists have as their primary responsibility the winning of souls and the establishment of churches. And pastors have as their assignment preaching, teaching, nurturing, and encouraging the flock. Their assignment to a particular locale is longer term, and they are identified most closely with the needs and aspirations of the people. As such, they need certain special qualities—a spiritual physiology.
Pastors should have what I call eagle eyes. The eagle flies high above the earth, and so its view takes in great expanses of territory. Yet naturalists tell us that even from the distance of a mile in the sky it can see a small animal such as a rabbit.
Like the eagle, pastors must be able to see the big issues of life. Yet they cannot lose sight of the needs of individuals. They must be able to see people as they are, warts and all, and not lose sight of what they can be by God's grace. They must be able to see present circumstances, while also able to see rich possibilities. As the late Robert F. Kennedy said: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not." The pastor needs to see the present clearly yet not be blinded to the future.
When I was growing up I used to hear old Black preachers talking about the things they saw in their "mind's eye." They had the facility of seeing beyond the limiting realities of the present, the poverty, pain, and discrimination, to the greater realities and glories of the future. They were able to carry us beyond our dismal present and enable us to see and experience those glories with them.
Pastors must have hearts of compassion. Matthew 9:36 gives us great insight into the character of Jesus. We are told that when Jesus beheld the pitiful, disillusioned multitude moving through life without direction or leadership He was moved with compassion. Pastors should have hearts that can be moved, hearts that love people, that pity rather than scorn them in their all-too-human problems. There are pastors who love projects and programs but have no love for people. Others love to study but have little love for people. Such individuals have their places in life, but they shouldn't be pastors. Perhaps they are suited to being builders or librarians, but not pastors. The pastor must love people, all kinds of people.
Unfortunately, some ministers see people as stepping-stones to greater prestige. They are willing to use people as long as they can help them fulfill their ambitions. For such ministers, people are pawns in a game—to be manipulated and controlled but not understood or loved.
Pastors must be willing to try to under stand their people, though they are not always easy to love or understand. And because sometimes the saints are any thing but saintly, pastors must be willing to forgive. Being willing to forgive is particularly important when you are right or have the advantage. It is not easy to be forgiving under such circumstances, but when you think about how much God through Christ has forgiven you, how can you help being forgiving?
Pastors must also be willing to ask forgiveness. They are as human as anyone else, and there are times when they need to ask forgiveness. Some believe that a frank admission of a mistake and a request for forgiveness is a sign of weakness. In reality, the ability to ask for and accept forgiveness is a sign of true strength, a sign that one understands what religion is all about.
Finally, a pastor may have great in sight and a compassionate heart, but these mean little if he or she doesn't have the hands of a worker. This is just a simple way of saying that pastors must be involved in the lives of their members. Too many pastors are preaching sermons that lack relevance because they don't really know their members and the problems their members face every day. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick was once asked why he spent so much time counseling when as a pastor of the prestigious River side Church he could have had staff members counsel and could have devoted his time to sermon preparation. "Why,"he replied, "if I didn't counsel, I wouldn't know what my people's needs are or how to preach to them."
We can't afford to remain in an ivory tower. We must visit people, be with them, touch them touch them in joy and sorrow, touch them in triumph and tragedy, touch them in pleasure and pain, touch them in wisdom and ignorance. The pastor with a worker's hands knows the importance of visiting parishioners and does not fear getting involved in the problems of the people.
Acquiring pastoral physiology
How, then, does one acquire such a spiritual physiology? How does one obtain the eyes, heart, and hands of a pas tor? These are not characteristics that come to any of us naturally. The apostle Paul is a good example of how we can develop these characteristics. When we first meet him, as Saul of Tarsus, he is a bigoted, inflexible Pharisee with an in difference to the needs of individuals and a streak of cruelty. Years later we meet him as the apostle Paul, a sensitive pastor who for three years labored with tears for the people of Ephesus. The great change in Paul's life took place when Jesus be came a real, personal Saviour to him.
The same is true with us. The first step to fulfilling the role of pastor is learning to know Jesus as a personal Saviour. When Jesus becomes real to us, when He is not just a sermon topic, when we see Him as our Saviour, our ministry will change. In fact, we cannot really pastor until we our selves have drunk of the waters of salvation to which we are trying to lead others.
Second, we must read widely and come in contact with the great minds of the centuries. When Paul wrote Timothy during his last imprisonment, he asked Timothy to bring his books when he came to see him. Paul's books were so important to him that even though he had little time left to live, he wanted to read and grow.
We need to learn to read widely, not merely focusing on things that we feel will make good preaching material. Wide reading helps us understand human nature better. It helps us see beyond the narrow confines of our personal experience. Seeing the world through the eyes of others enriches us and places us in a position where we can enrich our fellows.
Finally, one really becomes a pastor by ministering to people. By meeting them in crises and sharing their joys and sorrows. By walking with them, identifying with them, and being one of them rather than merely directing them. Many years ago, inspired by a saying of Homer, Sam Walter Foss wrote the poem "The House by the Side of the Road." In it Foss expressed a desire to have a house by the side of the road to shelter wounded humanity. In the last verse of his poem he declared:
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by;
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scomer's seat
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
. . . . . .
In a poem entitled "Crowded Ways of Life" Walter S. Gresham took issue with the thoughts Foss had expressed:
'Tis only a half truth the poet has sung
Of the "house by the side of the way."
Our Master had neither a house nor a home,
But He walked with the crowd day by day.
And I think, when I read of the poet's desire,
That a house by the road would be good;
But service is found in its tenderest form
When we walk with the crowd in the road.
So I say, Let me walk with them in the road,
Let me seek out the burdens that crush,
Let me speak a kind word of good cheer to the weak
Who are falling behind in the rush.
There are wounds to be healed, there are breaks we must mend,
There's a cup of cold water to give;
And the man in the road by the side of his friend
Is the man who has learned to live.
Then tell me no more of the house by the road;
There is only one place I can live
It's there with the men who are toiling along,
Who are needing the cheer I can give.
It is pleasant to live in the house by the way
And be a friend, as the poet has said;
But the Master is bidding us: "Bear ye their load,
For your rest waiteth yonder ahead."
I could not remain in the house by the road
And watch as the toilers go on,
Their faces beclouded with pain and with sin,
So burdened their strength nearly gone.
I'll go to their side, I'll speak in good cheer,
I'll help them to carry their load;
And I'll smile at the man in the house by the way,
As I walk with the crowd in the road.
Out there in the road that goes by the house,
Where the poet is singing his song,
I'll walk and I'll work 'midst the heat of the day,
And I'll help falling brothers along
Too busy to live in the house by the way,
Too happy for such an abode.
And my heart sings its praise to the
Master of all,
Who is helping me serve in the road.
. . . . . .
The pastor's place is in the road with the people, seeing their needs, feeling their joys and sorrows, and touching them for God.