I have not been in full time ministry too long. But from what I can tell, pastoral ministry is one of the most unique vocations on earth. It is paradoxically one of the most rewarding and yet the heaviest things I have ever dedicated my life to. I reading a fellow pastor’s blog in which he described the “burden of pastoral ministry” as follows:
- The leadership and financial stress and uncertainty of a high level entrepreneur.
- The responsibilities teacher to clearly communicate the truth.
- The weight of a counselor as everyone shares their deepest, darkest secrets, and problems expecting meaningful help.
- The burden of an artist that weekly crafts and presents a message for all to see, hear, and critique.
- The heart of a parent to make sure others experience the needed love and care.
If you are a pastor you can probably resonate with the general idea of these descriptions. What pastors can easily fail to recognize is that the desire to do well ministry can sometimes become elusively sinful. It’s very easy for pastors to take something good like ministry and allow it to become an idol (we place all of our hope in performing these expectations well) or a crushing self-righteous burden (we think we can and try and carry these expectations alone).
When we give in to performance idolatry or self-righteous burden carrying we have failed to believe the claims of the gospel itself. This is where I have found Tim Chester’s “four truths” so helpful. In the book You Can Change Chester argues that most of our sinful behavior and negative emotions arise because we are not believing one of these four truths as we should.
- God is great so we do not have to be in control.
- God is glorious so we do not have to fear others.
- God is good so we do not have to look elsewhere.
- God is gracious so we do not have to prove ourselves.
In another book, Everyday Church, he writes that “for the most part, our pastoral interventions go wrong not because we lack technique or knowledge or experience but because we as pastors have failed truly to believe one of these four truths about God.” (91) He then applies the four truths to pastoral ministry:
- If we don’t believe these truths we will think people need us to save them.
- If we don’t believe these truths we will fear how people will respond to us.
- If we don’t believe truths we will avoid difficult situations.
- If we don’t believe these truths we will try to impress others constantly.
If these claims are true, then we can deduce that most poor pastoral care comes down to not believing in the sufficiency of the gospel for every aspect of ministry. Pastor, you need to believe these truths. You need to feel these truths deep down in your heart. These gospel truths will set you. The first step in the process is to identify the sin. Think through these questions based on Chester’s list in Everyday Church (95).
- Are you overbearing?
- Are you inflexible or risk-averse?
- Are you impatient with people?
- Do you avoid responsibility?
- Do you avoid confrontation?
- Do you crave approval?
- Do you behave differently around certain people?
- Do you pretend or hide your true self?
- Do you feel that ministry is a burden?
- Do you crave approval?
- Do you often complain?
- Do you make people feel a burden of duty?
- Do you have trouble sticking at things?
- Do you take criticism and failure badly?
- Do you find it hard to relax?
- Are you proud, do you envy the success of others?
- Do you make people feel guilty?
Pastor, do you see yourself in any of these descriptions? Remind yourself of the “four truths” and remember the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”