During 2012, I entered a planned sabbatical of six months, which our church grants each of our pastoral staff members every seventh year of ministry. Overextended, exhausted and shortchanging my wife and children, I placed myself under the tutelage of a variety of authors and mentors, many of whom focused on soul care, personal spiritual formation and the vocational call of the pastor. As a result of spending an extended period of time in such green pastures, completely disengaged from my work as pastor, I found myself (with the assistance of a wise counselor) on a journey to rediscover and reshape my soul, myself and my understanding of my vocation and calling. In the process, I was tasked with an assignment to reflect and write about (admittedly a flawed concept) the idea of being a perfect pastor. After presenting an initial concept to a community of readers, I received their feedback, revised my work and, with further feedback, revised my thoughts once again. Consequently, the following thoughts are some of the reflections and lessons I am learning, as well as a picture of the qualities of life and ministry I am seeking to cultivate as I emerge from this sabbatical season.
The pastor … is not hurried or driven by the tyranny of the urgent, but rather has established rhythms in his life of slowing down the pace enough to listen to what’s going on inside himself and what the Lord is saying in the midst of the activity. His pace is set by the Lord’s agenda for a work or family day, week or a season—and who knows this agenda because he has made room for God to speak slowly, softly and regularly through times of solitude and meditation on the Word of God. At the end of the day, he wishes to say that what God has assigned, he has faithfully completed.
When in a meeting or a counseling session, or when spending time with staff, he is attentive to the present. He is not rushed in conversation, thinking about what else must be done, but is relaxed and attentive to those with whom he is meeting. With one ear tuned into heaven and one on the work before him, he utilizes prayer as an internal conversation that gives shape to his words and actions. He is one who seeks to become quicker to listen to God and people and slower to speak.
He is one who, from genuine times of introspection and conversation with God and others, has the ability to journey with people—not for them but as a companion guiding others in a spiritual pilgrimage on which he himself is journeying. He encourages, exhorts and feeds others as he is able to from a full tank within.
When leading, he does so collaboratively, with conviction, courage and a willingness to take risks to advance the Gospel in fresh and creative ways.
He is a lover of the Word of God. Whether walking with people one on one or in the pulpit, he is able to open Scripture and make accessible for people the life-giving Word of Christ in ways that are practical and alive. His desired end is that Christians can walk in confidence, having heard the Lord speak to them, affirming within them a sense of dignity, purpose and His Presence in their homes, places of work and when at play.
The pastor is one who is learning the value and freedom of serving so as to please the Lord rather than men; he has seen too many times the cycle of seeking praise from anyone else inevitably fails to satisfy and is flawed from start to finish. Instead, he looks to the Lord, who, as Abba Father, promises to pour out His immeasurable love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Further, by seeking God as Abba Father, the pastor hears the Lord speaking and affirming his own identity as a man who is dearly loved despite—and in—his own shortcomings. This foundation of God’s acceptance is what enables him to face conflict, speak truth when truth needs to be spoken and bring the compassion and love of God into the many scenarios he faces.
In the end, the pastor is learning that if there is any perfection at all in being a pastor, it is in being perfectly himself, secure in Christ—true to the personality, physicality, gifts, limitations and life God has given him.