Everybody knows that people need pastors! If this is true, then why do fewer and fewer people act like it? If people really valued their pastor, they would find more ways to show their appreciation. Perhaps they would:
1. Fight over who gets to chair the nominating committee.
2. Call early to reserve a seat for Communion Sabbath.
3. Watch reruns all week of the pastor's latest sermon.
4. Raise the church budget by the first Sabbath of each month.
5. Ask only theological questions that can be answered in five minutes.
6. Give the responsibility of Ingathering to the deacons.
7. Make attendance at church business meetings a test of fellowship.
8. Call the church office to schedule the pastor for a home visit.
9. Write letters to the conference president about everything that's going right.
10. Include golf balls in the church budget.
Seriously, I don't know of any pastors who are holding out for such treatment. More than anything, they just want to know that their ministry counts that it's making a difference in people's lives.
What members want in a pastor
Recently Jim Cress, Ministerial Association secretary of the General Conference, shared eight observations about pastors that he has gleaned over the years from working with churches.
"1. Will our pastor uplift Jesus Christ in every sermon and make each service alive and interesting such that we could feel comfortable inviting our friends to attend? "
"2. Will our pastor proclaim the distinctive message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and avoid concentrating on one or two issues that seem to be the pastor's pet concentration?
"3. Will our pastor support the educational emphasis of our church school, academy, college, etc.? Will our pastor encourage ministry for our young people, both by proclamation and by participation? "
"4. Will our pastor help heal wounds and seek disenfranchised/missing members rather than contributing to further dissension or separationism in our congregation?"
"5. Will our pastor model God's will in the pastoral family rather than preaching one thing and practicing another?
"6. Will our pastor affirm confidence in the gift of prophecy and the distinctive mission and message of the remnant church?
"7. Will our pastor encourage outreach appropriate for our community, and train, by example, our members to reach out to others?
"8. What preparation (i.e., educational training) do potential pastors have that prepares them to lead in the increasingly complex challenges our congregation faces?"*
Caring for God's "trivia"
Ministry in today's world affords very little in the way of accolades and warm fuzzies. But then, I don't know of many who are in ministry for the perks. That's not to say there aren't some who see it only as a job, and who, with time clock precision, leave their work at the office and consider it an intrusion when the phone rings at home. Those who fit into this category have probably never understood the idea of being "called to ministry." They view it more as a professional pursuit than a life mission.
Those who understand the true meaning of service are willing to put their preferences on hold while they attend to what some call "trivia." They see the importance of little needs and are not afraid to lose themselves in helping people find meaning for their lives.
Pastors that people need
As a pastor, what do you want to be remembered for? Do you want to be remembered as a great preacher, an effective administrator, or a creative visionary? Do you want to be remembered as a soul winner? These are qualities that many churches covet in a pastor. In truth, there is one quality that is even more highly prized.
First and foremost, people need divinely appointed shepherds who are known for their integrity leaders whose lives validate what they preach! When the pressure is on, people aren't interested in hearing sermons that focus on theoretical concepts and philosophical maxims.
When people find their lives ravaged by guilt and pain, they look for men and women who can provide hope and healing! They look for pastors who are willing to share God through their personal struggles and triumphs. In a word, they look for pastors who are not afraid to be authentic.
The crown jewel of a successful ministry is not a perfect sermon, a full baptistry, or a busy church calendar. It is knowing that the fruits of one's ministry have sprung from a life committed to holiness whatever the cost. Pastors who demonstrate this kind of commitment will always be needed!
Questions to ponder
Here are some questions to ponder as you think about your ministry in its past, present, and future tense:
Are you pursuing an experience with Jesus?
Do you sense God's call in your life?
Are you real?
Do you mean what you say?
Do you look people in the eye when you talk with them?
Do you have a genuine interest in the people you serve?
Are you willing to be vulnerable with others?
If you can answer yes to these questions, your members and constituents will probably be very understanding of your weaknesses.
These are not qualities we can put on and take off at a whim. They are core values that are implanted by Christ as we sit at His feet in private Bible study and prayer. Someone once said, "Character is what you do when you think no one else is watching." We'd be surprised to learn how many people are really watching when we think they aren't. While we don't want to make behavior our focus, our actions often reflect our true inner selves.
When people perceive we are genuine and that the ministry we perform is more than just something we get paid to do, they will need it!
Caring pastors are here to stay!
There will always be a need for pastors who genuinely care about people's lives, who pray with and for their members, who are not stuck in a quagmire of ecclesiastical squabbling, who understand the difference between a "call" and a job, who live what they preach, and who know how to laugh and weep. If our church structure completely collapsed and all salary funding dried up, there would still be a need for true pastors. There will always be a need for those who have committed their lives to nurturing broken people and feeding hungry souls.
*See PlusLine Access, January-February 1996, a newsletter for people involved in frontline ministry.