Some have accused me, on occasion, of overemphasizing pastoral ministry and possibly down playing other kinds of church work.1 It is a serious charge. I plead guilty—with explanation.
Perhaps it is time for me to indulge in some self-analysis. Why this partiality, this bias of mine, toward pastors?
Come with me back to my childhood. I was a PK, a preacher's kid. Dad was my pastor. He was a man of tremendous physical and moral strength, and I took for granted that he would always be my spiritual leader. But then the strong man was overcome by illness and had to take medical leave. It was a new experience for me, just 9 years old. I had to get used to someone else being "up there" Sabbath mornings. Although Dad was still number one, there were others. Gradually I accepted that, grudgingly at first. Finally these other preachers became role models also. Even heroes. I saw them in action, Sabbath after Sabbath, leading the people in worship. I was impressed.
Our family was now in a new situation—on the receiving end of pastoral ministry. When Dad had to be away and we children had no transportation to church school, one of our pastors with out children of his own turned his car into our school bus. I began to absorb the flavor of ministry. These men became friends and mentors.
Looking back over the years, I realize that pastors have always been a blessing to me and our family. So it's with pleasure and pride that I've always referred to each of these men of God as "my pastor." (Sorry I have to keep using the masculine gender, but I have not had a female pastor as yet.) I never hesitate to call on them in times of real need. Of course, I do not want to overburden them with trivia. Sometimes I've called upon pastors outside my locality to minister to my relatives in need, and they have always come through.
All of our pastors have been kind to our children. Little things can mean a lot. For one of my pastors to tell me that he saw my son or daughter at the college or academy and he or she was doing well—that would always make my day. Of course, sometimes our children needed a bit of caution and counsel, but even in those situations I never detected any condescending attitude on the part of my pastors. They have always seemed genuinely interested.
Sanctified wisdom and restraint
If anything has approached a problem in relationships with my pastors, it has been in getting them to treat me and my family simply as members of the household of faith who have needs and anxieties and hopes just as others do, not singling us out for special treatment. I, in turn, want to be a good pastor's assistant, helping in the background but staying out of the way. I fear that I may say or do something to multiply his burdens. I regard it almost a cardinal sin to second guess my pastor or interject myself inappropriately into the church program. Forbid it that I should ever speak from the "conference standpoint." I am not an adjunct pastor; and now being retired, I am not the pastor emeritus. This is a delicate matter, because a few of the saints would like to exploit my situation and cause a little uneasiness. We who are older must always keep this in mind: we have had our day and must give way to today's leadership. It's only right and fair.
On the other hand, we should not have to be walking on eggshells all the time. Speaking the truth is always in order, but the law of kindness should be upon our lips. There may be times when we will have differences and disagreements with the pastor, but these instances should be few and far between. Ellen White counsels us never to short-circuit God's plan outlined in Matthew 18. "Old men for counsel" is a good saying, but we should not always be offering counsel. We need to wait until it is requested. And even then we must learn how to be "non directive."
The pastor and the people need to know that we do not receive gossip. This is a good folk saying and worthy of note: "A dog that will bring a bone will carry one." We do not take sides in church disputes. Retired preachers ought to be models of sanctified wisdom and restraint. Happily, most of those I know are.
Let's get to the crux of the matter. The enrichment of pastoral ministries is what it is all about. It is my responsibility. It is your responsibility. It is the first business of the church. It is the church's future. There is and always will be a critical need for leadership in every human organization, the church included. Enlightened self-interest should lead us to reach this conclusion and take concrete action. We have got to find ways to build pastors. Conference officers have to get on with the business. Church members have to take up their share of the load. We have a fine group of earnest young men and women in pastoral ministry today. They must be the focus of our attention. We have done well, but we must do better, because "the efficiency of the church is precisely what the zeal, purity, self-denial, and intelligent labor of the ministers make it." 2
Strong pastors do make a difference. With the coming of the right leadership, I have seen the mood of an entire congregation lifted in a single day—the ambiance, or atmosphere, the morale, every thing. This makes me believe in miracles. The pastor is the impact player on the team. Pastors can make it happen.
At this point I just cannot refrain from offering a little of that counsel that I've said should be contributed so sparingly.
1. To church members. Swear off pastor-bashing. It is too late in the day to indulge in this "harmless" parlor pas time (which turns out not so harmless because our children could be damaged for life). Don't worship pastors, either. It is not healthy for you or for them. Love them, pray for them, give them your cooperation and support. Share your best ideas. Keep the lines of communication open. Remember that the relationship we have with our pastors is a positive or negative statement to the world.
2. To conference officers and staff. Don't insult your pastors' intelligence with banalities like "the pastor's work is the greatest and most important," while letting, for one reason or another, administrative or departmental responsibilities take priority. Pastors don't need to hear, nor do they believe, these pious platitudes. Show your religion by your works. Create a climate conducive to fruitful and pleasant pastoral ministries. Get out in the trenches with the pastors. Stay in a district for an extended period of time as an unobtrusive assistant. Ob serve, listen, learn. Sit where they sit seven days (see Eze. 3:15). See that they get their due. Make pastor-friendly policies and carry them out. Management people in cutting-edge businesses do this all the time. This beats wordy pronouncements any day.
3. For pastors. You have got to believe in your work, in your calling, and in the people you serve. Self-pity is futile. Look to the Lord for your support; He knows your worth. When Ellen White says, "At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason," 3 she is speaking to the real world, the world where ministry takes place. We cannot be swayed by the applause of the brethren or the lack thereof. While the brethren can help you or hurt you, they can't really make you or break you. Your fortune is ultimately outside of their hands. Whether anyone else believes it or not, what pastors do for Christ will last an eternity. Make no excuses or apologies for being in pastoral ministry. You are treading out the corn that fills the crib that nourishes us all.
The ultimate profession
Karl Menninger has a word to say to pastors who sometimes envy other professionals in the community: "The minister standing before his flock week after week, speaking to them for half an hour under aesthetic and hallowed auspices, has an unparalleled opportunity to lighten burdens, interrupt and redirect circular thinking, relieve the pressure of guilt feelings and their self-punishment, and inspire individual and social improvement. No psychiatrist or psychotherapist, even [one] with many patients, has the quantitative opportunity to cure souls and mend minds which the preacher enjoys. And the preacher also has a superb opportunity to do what few psychiatrists can, to prevent the development of chronic anxiety, depression, and other mental ills." 4
Pastors, above all other professionals, because of the enormous influence they wield, should be models of spiritual and mental wholeness and wellness. The sheep of God's flock are placed in their hands, malleable, impressionable, vulnerable. To bring them to a mature, viable faith is an operation more delicate than neurosurgery!
When God calls a person to pastoral ministry, it is because He recognizes in him or her potential, capacity for growth. He sees a kind of toughness and resiliency that will withstand the inevitable heat of the kitchen. It is an awesome prospect. G. K. Chesterton had a point when he said, tongue in cheek, "We should start these ordinands as bishops and let them work their way up to where we can make them parish priests." The care of souls is far and away the most demanding task of all. Each one is unique. As C. S. Lewis observed: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."
Aiming at the enemy
Finally, the church militant is facing the crisis of crises. When the chips are down and the lines drawn, we shall dis cover that we need one another. Our weapons must be aimed at the enemy, not at ourselves. We cannot afford the energy it takes to fight imaginary battles. You will remember the admiral who spent his ammunition on temple spires because they were adorned with crosses and then was unable to cover the ground troops when the real battle started. Internecine struggles are terribly debilitating. Our real foe out there is deadly, cunning, and wily; we cannot afford to give him any quarter. He would be happy to set us at each other's throat. He would destroy our families and our churches. But "the powers of darkness stand a poor chance against believers who love one another as Christ has loved them." 5
The pastor's ministry is representative. His or her ministry authenticates the ministry of the whole people of God. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?" (Matt. 24:45).* "It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Eph. 4:11, 12). "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17). The pastoral assignment is encompassed in the Master's words "Feed my lambs . . . Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). Feeding, leading, and equipping are the terms of reference. We really are a team. The situation calls for solidarity in the ranks.
The church has done a good job in the support of its servant leaders. Let us give credit to our brother and sister administrators who have under God developed the organization, the infrastructure, the system, that makes full-time ministry possible. We all need affirmation and understanding. Let us speak kindly of one another. If we are to be used of God to grow up a church that attains "to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13), we must ourselves grow out of our pettiness and narrowness so that we can see the big picture, see the value and worth of our brothers and sisters in ministry. This 1888 Ellen White comment is fitting: "When we look at these matters without prejudice, we shall see some things to excuse and some things to commend, and fewer to censure." 6
* All Scripture texts in this article are from the
New International Version.
1 I am the fellow who had the temerity to
convene 24 pastors and elders in the North
Americcan Division for a conference in 1981. Their
discussion of pastoral ministry was reported in
Ministry, August 1981.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol.
5, p. 582.
3 Ibid., p. 136.
4 Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?
(New York: Bantam Books, 1988), pp. 200, 201.
5 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White
Comments (Washington, D.C.: Review and Her
ald Pub. Assn., 1980), vol. 5, p. 1141.
6 The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials (Wash
ington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987),vol. 1,