Why Be a Pastor?

Something's in the air. I've had a fairly sudden flood of people approach me recently for counsel on starting a new church or entering seminary or becoming a pastor.

I've asked each of them at some point, "Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to plant and pastor a church?" The question is far from academic for me. It's all-important.

The answers I've gotten are all good, conventional enough. Lost people. Need. Passion. Check, check, check. But I sometimes sense (as with many others over the years) that there are many more reasons, sometimes buried deep, sometimes just under the surface, sometimes not.

Most of us who are pastors begin (at least) because we love people. Or because we want to be liked. Or because we want to be approved, either in God's eyes, people's eyes, or both. Or because we love God's Word. We want to preach. We love teaching people, seeing the lights come on in their eyes.

Some of us enter pastoral ministry because our family will be proud. Or our denomination will. Or because we've failed most everywhere else--we haven't been happy in any other jobs, haven't been able to hold any other jobs, whatever. Or because we've participated in churches where our pastors' standards of living were better than ours, and we figured that would be nice. Maybe even easy.

Don't look so horrified. It happens, believe me. Few of us, if any, are self-aware or honest or vulnerable enough to know or admit all the reasons. But chances are, none of them are good enough.

Because, you see, those of us who went into ministry because we love people have discovered over the years that loving people is a sure way to get yourself hurt. And wanting to be liked is a recipe for disaster. And craving approval from anyone but God is a dead end. And preaching is such a small part of what most of us do...and it usually ends up being something we squeeze in because of all the other demands on our time. And the pride of a family or denomination can be unsatisfying compared to the burdens and struggles of a conscientious pastor. And as far as standard of living and easy way of life go...don't make me laugh!

I think I've always known it, but I know it more and more with every passing year of ministry. I think most of us do, which is why no one wants to admit any other reason for entering ministry. The only good reason to be a pastor is because God has called you, unmistakably and unavoidably.

Pastoring is no way to live, unless you've been called. It will depress you, frustrate you, burden you, exhaust you, and possibly even crush you. People can be heartless, unresponsive, stubborn, and fickle. There is always way more work to do, and it's never done. For every sermon you preach, you've got it to do again next week. For every person who says, "Thank you!" there are ten who say, "Why did you....?" or "Why didn't you....?" or "How could you?" If your church is growing, so are your problems (Proverbs 14:4).

That's why I often tell people who express an interest in ministry, "If you can do anything else, do it!" Because as fun as it can be at times, it's also unspeakably hard. It'll break your heart. But if you are called, if you cannot escape, if it burns in your bones (Jeremiah 20:9), if you are compelled to the point that you say, "Woe is me if I do not" (1 Corinthians 9:16), then be a pastor.

That's not just the best reason, in my experience. It's the only one.

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