IS IT A PASTOR?
Is It a Pastor?
The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
I have made my views known early and often on the subject of pastoral care, pastoral visitation, and relational pastoral ministry here at Internet Monk.
In my opinion, such practices lie at the heart of pastoral ministry. If a pastor does not spend time with people, getting to know them outside of church activities–in their homes, schools, places of employment and recreation, etc.–I do not believe that pastor can preach, teach, pray, or lead effectively. Such a pastor cannot truly help people with spiritual formation. Such a pastor cannot gain the relational wisdom or have the personal access required to “show and tell” others how to love God and love people, which is the goal of Christian faith.
Awhile back, I was talking about this with someone, and a particular pastor in a large church came up in our conversation. This particular minister spends nearly all his time either studying or preparing studies, teaching and preaching, writing or speaking at conferences. Many folks I have known in seminary and pastoral ministry have considered him a model. They aspire to be like him. They believe (rightly) in the power of God’s Word, and can think of nothing better than immersing one’s life in studying it and teaching it to others.
I myself have been in their shoes, coveting such a ministry. I have been the “teaching” pastor, filling my sermons to overflowing with content. I have cloistered myself in my study. I have taught classes in local churches that I would have been proud to present at a college or seminary level.
As we discussed this particular minister, it became clear that he had other staff members handle pastoral care and visitation and such ministries. And then my friend said, “And I was told, to be truthful you really don’t want Pastor ________ to visit you in the hospital!” In other words, he was no good at it. His relational and caring skills were less than adequate for the task. In all likelihood, you would feel worse after he visited you than before.
I am going to be brutally frank here. I don’t know how you call such a person a “pastor.” And I will say something else, with equal honesty–I would not want him as my pastor.
I don’t know who your models for ministry are, but my primary Biblical models have been Jesus and Paul, and to a lesser extent, Peter. One of the great epiphanies I had in seminary was that I could read the New Testament not just to learn its doctrinal and ethical content, but I could also learn how to be a pastor by observing the examples it contains of how to minister to others.
It was Paul’s letters that threw the curtains back first for me. The most meaningful passage over the years has been 1Thessalonians 2:1-12–
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (NASB)
I won’t do a full analysis of this passage; I merely want you to see the images Paul uses to describe his ministry. Note how personal they are, how relational. He speaks of the gentleness of a mother, laying down his life for those who had become dear to him, working hard beside them and not wanting to be a burden, passionately encouraging “each one” as a father would his own children.
This is not mere imagery. This was Paul’s life. Background studies tell us he most likely moved into a type of working man’s dormitory called an “insula” when he got to Thessalonica. These dorms were behind the “agora,” the open city marketplace, where the craftsman manufactured their goods and then sold them to the public. Paul was with these folks 24/7. He slept in a dorm with them. He ate meals with them in the common dining hall. He worked beside them and sold his wares out of the same stalls.
The most profound teacher Christianity has ever known did not hole himself up in a study. He never had the luxury to do that until the Romans decided he needed a sabbatical–in prison! Paul lived, worked, ate, and slept among the people every day. He got to know them so well he could rightly use family images of mother, father, brother when describing how he loved them and ministered to them.
He was imitating his model for ministry–Jesus himself. Certainly Jesus spent time alone in prayer and we have several examples of his public sermons to crowds. But if you want to get a handle on a normal day in Jesus’ ministry, take a look at a chapter like Mark 1. From sun-up to sundown, he was with people. He was talking to them, touching them, caring for their needs, learning about their problems, teaching them, exhorting them.
Someone once wrote a comment on one of my “visitation” posts, saying that his goal was to have a more “apostolic” ministry. His thinking went like this. Right now I am an associate pastor, on the staff of a church. All the ordinary and sometimes unpleasant tasks get assigned to me, including a lot of the “people work.” One day, however, I will be in a senior role, where I will get to be more like an apostle. My job then will be to seek the Lord for his vision. My job will be to plan the strategy. My job will be to proclaim the word, cast the vision, be the great communicator for the church and prepare for that by studying and praying. All the other tasks I will delegate to my staff and volunteers.
That was his view of what an apostle did.
So I went to the Book of Acts to find out what an apostle did. Yes, the twelve did delegate the ministry to the widows in Acts 6 to others so that they could devote themselves to “the ministry of the word and prayer.” But as I kept reading, I got a better idea of what “the ministry of the word and prayer” was all about.
Take Acts 9:32-43 for example. Here is one of the most prominent apostles, Peter. The text says he was out, moving to and fro among all the people. He took the time to visit the saints in Lydda, where he did “hospital visitation” of a kind, going to see a paralyzed man named Aeneas and speaking the word of healing to him. This led to others coming to faith in Christ. Then he went to Joppa and attended a funeral visitation for Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, a dear woman in the church there. He met with all her friends, and spent time learning about her life while, through tears, they showed him all the items she had made. He spoke the word to her and restored her life. While in Joppa, the text says he stayed with a man named Simon, who was a tanner. If you know anything about tanners, you know that their houses don’t smell too good because of all the animal carcasses and skins. So these houses were usually not in the best parts of town. For a religious person, such a setting would also be considered unclean. But Peter, the great apostle (!) was willing to stay there and receive hospitality. He did not demand that he be put up in the Hilton so that he could spend time in prayer and study and receiving visions!
Among the people. Visiting the saints. Visiting the sick. Speaking words of healing. Evangelizing among non-believers. Going to funerals. Speaking the word of life. Staying in common homes. That is the work of an “apostle.”
I don’t think that is what my friend had in mind.
But if that’s not a description of what you do, I hesitate to point at you and say, “That’s a pastor.”