Every job has its good and bad side. Every job has its own unique challenges. The work of a pastor is hard work. I’m not referring to just the act of delivering a sermon, for to do the work of a pastor involves much more than preaching. I recall overhearing a man say, “Being a pastor must be an easy job because you only work a few hours each week.”
Don’t Become a Pastor
I never met my paternal grandfather. He died when my father was a boy. What I came to know about my grandfather was only what I heard through the quivering lips of my grandmother, the childhood memories of my father, and the testimony that he left behind which has been delivered to my on multiple occasions throughout my lifetime. My father can remember his father saying, “If you can do anything else in life other than the work of a pastor, do it.” The point was clear – you should not become a pastor because some said that you memorized more Bible verses than any other child in your church in that given year. The work of a pastor can be encouraging and discouraging – sometimes only minutes apart.
The Positive Work of a Pastor
Pastoral ministry can be very encouraging labor. To visit the hospitals of new mothers and fathers as you celebrate with them on the birth of their new born baby is always a delight. To watch people profess faith in Jesus Christ and literally turn their back on the world and cling to the finished work of Christ on the cross will melt the heart of a pastor. To baptize new believers in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit as they announce to the world that they are followers of Jesus Christ is a special privilege and joy. The joys of pastoral ministry continue as you get to disciple them in the Scriptures each week and help them grow in their faith. The encouragements range from wedding celebrations, new babies, new Christians, the observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching and teaching work through the year. However, this is only the positive work, and there is certainly a negative side to pastoral ministry that must be considered.
The Negative Work of a Pastor
Pastors, if worth their weight in salt, will give much to their church behind the scenes that will never be known. The long hours spent away from home, the sacrifice the family gives to the work, and the “fish bowl” life of a pastor’s family can often be challenging if not prepared for the work of pastoral ministry.
We live in a world where the general public doesn’t appreciate being told they’re wrong. American individualism and isolationism can often hamper the growth of a church. The pastor is called to confront this sin, not only from the pulpit, but in person to those who persist in sin. Dealing with obstinate people is a difficult challenge in pastoral ministry, one that far too many pastors could not handle, so they walked away from their post.
Receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning to inform you that a person in your church has suddenly died is depressing. As a pastor, your mind goes immediately to the last time you interacted with them. You search your mind to see if they were gathered with the church for worship on the previous Lord’s Day. Were they at the mid-week prayer meeting? What was the last conversation you had with them? These thoughts are racing through your mind as you get out of bed and make your way to comfort the family.
Preparing the people to live in holiness and to cast off the works of darkness is the central heartbeat of a pastor’s ministry. The work of church discipline must be done faithfully and continuously to build up holiness within the church and cause people to flee from sin. In the midst of preaching and private discipleship behind the scenes, a pastor must learn to deal with the critics that arise to hinder the work. The criticism is that you are too serious, too negative, too holy, too strict, and the list goes on and on. All of this happens while praying and laboring for their soul.
As Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, the negative continues as some people discover that they no longer want to hear sound doctrine. They would rather hear a different style of preaching that’s more modern and so they move their membership to another church without counseling with you and the other pastors within the church concerning their decision. It’s announced as they leave through a simple passing conversation or it appears in letter form on your desk when you arrive at the office on Tuesday morning.
Alexander Grossart, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, quotes a Scottish pastor by the name of John Brown, who wrote a letter to one of his pupils newly ordained over a small congregation. The counsel he provides to this young pastor is as follows:
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at His judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.
The joys and struggles of pastoral ministry are real. The joys are delightful and the negatives are painful. However, the man who is called to labor for the souls of men, women, boys, and girls wouldn’t trade the work of a pastor for anything else in the world. When people say to their pastor, “You really stepped on my toes today” they probably don’t realize that the same text that mashed their toes for an hour has been sitting on the pastor’s toes for at least a week. The same sword that cuts and pierces the hearts of people is handled all week long by the pastor. He comes to the pulpit with scared hands from handling the sword all week. To be a preacher is one thing, but to be a pastor is quite different. We work with the church for their joy in Christ Jesus.