I had a really interesting conversation this week with a pastor that I know quite well. He has been recovering from some recent surgery and that has given him some space to reflect… to think… to hear… to BE.
During his forced slow-down, this pastor told me had been pondering a question. How would his life look different if he focused more on being a Christian and less on being a pastor? You might read that question and think to yourself “well, of course we should focus more on our identity as Christians than our position as ministers.” One is about the foundation of our “being” and the other is about the function of our “doing”. One is about our position in Christ, and the other is about our position in ministry.
But if you have been in ministry very long, you know how easy it is to get the two intertwined. When you feel called and when you have great passion for ministry, the lines between person and position can get fuzzy. You move from simply being a Christian to now being a professional Christian.
You can begin to read the Bible only through the lens of sermon preparation. You no longer read Scripture out of a longing to know God more deeply or to feed your soul. Most of your prayers are pastoral prayers and you rarely come to God out of your own longing.
Most of your conversations are informed by your position as pastor. You can start to pastor people instead of simply love people.
I have done all of those things. I think they are hazards of what we do. But like any hazard, they need to be avoided.
When you focus more on being a pastor than being a Christian, you start down the path of cynicism and disillusionment. In 2 Timothy 3, when Paul is talking about the end times, he speaks of those who have a form of godliness, but deny it’s power. That reality is not limited to those who are far from God. It can also be the reality of those of us who speak for God. When that becomes the reality of my life, I move into image management. What I project on the outside isn’t what I’m experiencing on the inside… and that is a dangerous place for a pastor.
When you focus only on being a pastor and not on being a Christian, you begin to lead from an empty place. And when you are a pastor, leading on empty is no fun. Believe me, I’ve tried. In those times you may look, talk, and act like a pastor, but inwardly you become dry, resentful and cynical.
This is what happened to the priests in Malachi’s time. In Malachi 1:13 the Lord rebukes these men who were representing him… You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the Lord,’ and you turn up your noses at my commands,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Ministry is hard under the best of circumstances. But it is especially hard when you are just going through the motions.
I have no doubt that some of us reading these words need to return to our first love. We need to be reminded today that God made us a person and a Christian before He made us a pastor.
In Ephesians 3 Paul prayed that these 1st century believers…that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Ephesians 3:16 (NLT)
So often now when I read words like that I apply them to being a pastor. I want God to give me his unlimited resources and strengthen me so that I can pastor better. But perhaps today I should read those words and apply them first to being a Christian. Perhaps my greatest need is for resource and power to live the Christian life more than lead my church.
So, this week when you pick up your Bible, don’t just read through your sermon preparation lens. Show up and ask God to meet you personally in his Word. When you bow your head to pray this week, consider starting with your own desires and needs. What is you personally, as a child of God would like to say to your heavenly Father? And when you sit down to have conversations this week, how about taking off your pastor and leader hat? Instead of seeing the person in front of you as a pastoral project, how about just seeing them as a person who needs another person to love them and care for them.
Focus this week more on being a Christian than being a pastor.