We need to be real.
The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “hupocrites” which means an actor who plays a part. As a pastor there is a danger of getting so caught up in our pastoral “role” that we isolate who we really are from the public eye. Some pastors have even been taught that they must operate at a superior level and that there is a certain decorum this position demands. While there is a greater level of accountability, so often, if we are not careful, we find ourselves putting up a front and ministering from a place of duty or expectation and not genuine concern for other brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we are a shepherd, yes we are a leader, but first and foremost we are fellow travelers pursing Christ. People need to know that we are in this with them, not above them. Hurting people are not looking for someone in the role of the pastor; they’re looking for someone who will bring them into contact with Jesus. That can’t happen if the presence of Jesus in me is always masked by my “righteous” pastoral robes.
We need to be loving.
People can be frustrating. People can be stubborn. People can try your patience. People can oppose you, and sometimes do so in a very vicious and carnal manner. As pastors, the temptation we often face when encountering resistance is to saddle up our horses of righteous indignation or apostolic anointing and verbally trample the rebellious carnality right out of the unsurrendered carnal heart. The problem with this is that it is not the character or manner of Christ. Psalm 25:10 tells us, “ALL the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.” Romans 13 instructs us, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” As a pastor, or fellow believer for that matter, the perimeter I am bound to operate within is love. Love is God’s chief mode of operation. It is also what He demands of us in our dealings with those He has entrusted to our care. Yes we are called to speak truth, but we can be absolutely right in what we are saying and absolutely wrong in the reason and spirit with which we are saying it. Truth is not palatable unless it is infused with the love of God. In fact, a lack of love in what I say and how I say it will do nothing except create a barrier between me and the ones I am called to serve. Remember it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not His whip.
We need to be vulnerable.
We live in a world of hurting people. People who are wounded are looking for people who can relate to their hurt. As pastors, we do a disservice to people by pretending we have it all together. We need to be honest. There are days we don’t feel good. There are times we snap at our family. There are moments we find we need attitude adjustments. People need to know that there are times the Lord “takes us to the woodshed.” Our willingness to admit that we are human makes us much more approachable to others struggling with their humanity. Pastors, let your guard down. Be honest about your journey. Does that open us up to be hurt? Yes. But did Jesus do any less for us? How can we minister in His name if we aren't willing to follow His example? Don’t forget, it was not God on the throne who saved us; it was God on the cross. It was the humility and vulnerability of God encased in imperfect flesh that redeemed fallen man, not the self-righteous holiness of those pretending they were perfect.
We need to stop treating people like commodities.
Numbers matter in our culture. We can deflect this all we want by saying that “it’s not about the numbers” but every pastor knows or has known the pressure of filling pews. Whether it’s desire to pay the bills or desire to look good to our colleagues and superiors by increasing our stats, the fact is that success in the American religious machine too often simply boils down to how many warm bodies come through the church doors on Sunday morning. The resulting temptation from this scoreboard mentality is for pastors to become territorial and people to become commodities. When this happens, we create an atmosphere where jealousy, anxiety and desperation manifest themselves in manipulation, control and cheap tricks simply to get people to stay. Pastors, we must reject this way of thinking! Remember that the One who called us is also the One who owns the Church. Scripture is very clear that if our work is going to matter, the builder of the house must be the Lord. He is the One who draws them and He is the One who keeps them where He wants them. The truth of the matter is however, He sometimes leads them elsewhere. It is both foolish and arrogant to think that we have a monopoly on the Kingdom. People leave. That’s the nature of the world we live in. Does it hurt when they go? Certainly. Do we miss them? Yes. Do we try to resolve any offense that may have caused them to leave? Absolutely. At the end of the day however, people choose what they want and go where they are led. God’s kingdom is a big kingdom and we are called to much more important things than hoarding sheep. In fact, trying desperately to persuade people to stay, at best, only delays the inevitable and at worst, breeds hurt and distrust in all involved. We must learn to see other pastors and churches as allies not competition. It never has been and never will be about our own little pasture. It’s time to stop growing our congregations and grow the Kingdom.
We need to seek God’s message for His people.
Almost every pastor understands the struggle to prepare a weekly sermon. Resources abound that are dedicated to relieve that struggle. The internet is filled with articles and advice on sermon planning. There are websites devoted to assisting us in the preparation to whatever degree we like; from providing topical illustrations to entire sermons, complete with everything we need to deliver a cutting edge sermon. Here is the problem, as a pastor I am not called to simply preach a sermon every week; I am called to deliver God’s message to the people. That requires time spent on my face before the Lord. There is no substitute. I can preach an incredibly eloquent, culturally relevant and poignant sermon, but if it did not come from the voice of God burning in my soul, I have failed my hearers. E.M. Bounds said it best, "The real sermon is made in the closet. The man - God's man - is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor." Pastor, seek God. Make it your top priority to get alone with Him and hear His voice to your people. A sermon that does not come from the secret place with your Father, is one birthed by flesh and will fall short of eternal fruit. That doesn't mean we can’t utilize the resources available to us. Those are indeed wonderful tools, but they cannot be the source of the message. It must flow from His heart into ours. Anything less than this might entertain, and move the emotions, but only His message, through His messenger, empowered by His Spirit will transform a heart.
Maybe you don’t struggle in these areas. That is fine. These are lessons God has dealt with me about over the years; many of which I have learned the hard way. God is still shaping me and still revealing ways I fall short of the pastor He has called me to be. Through these moments of correction, however, I find He is giving me a greater heart for people. I never want to shrink back from His disciplining hand. It’s in those painful moments of realizing my weaknesses and failures that He reshapes me and makes me more like Him. The calling to surrender to His ongoing transformation is not unique to the pastor; it is the same calling we share with every other brother and sister in Christ. As a pastor, however, I will never be able to lead people to be more like Jesus, if I am unwilling for Him to start the work in me.