We all need them. You and I really won't be able to follow Jesus into all of the places he intends to take us without one. There seems to be an abundance of them, and that's a good thing given the future of anyone who wants to go as far as they were created to go. The problem is not all of them either understand that this is their critical task or they haven't been trained or they don't have one themselves.
I'm talking about Pastors.
Those women and men whom God raises up to point us to Jesus and how to follow him are a great gift to the Church. Many have left behind promising careers in the marketplace with potential to earn a significantly greater income. Some have been pursuing God most all their life with an understanding (consciously or unconsciously) that this is what their heart was beating for. Each has chosen to follow and to be used by God in what we call Pastoral Ministry. They are to be prayed for regularly, for their work is dangerous, often lonely, and unique.
To me, the essence of this service is prayer. Their days are taken with opportunities to pray, it's their job to put it in language most understand. Because this task hovers around mystery no job description will ever fully define it. To the onlooker it appears as if they waist a lot of precious productivity time. And this is the great rub.
Pastors are people and as such have egos and selfish desires like all people have. In fact every one of them responded to this call out of a misshaped, sin filled, ego. Those that deny this, give them time. They'll come to see it. They are people who grow and are transformed like any follower of Jesus. Prayer helps them do this. Their privilege is to be called away from the pressures of the marketplace to pray for those in the marketplace. They pray for their congregations so they might know how to help their congregation follow Jesus in the spheres of life they are uniquely enduring.
This is the original pastoral assignment. There have been adjustments to the original plan which has diluted, distorted, and deadened this calling. For a lot of reasons the activity of pastoring has been changed to "program-directing messiah and manager."* When someone is in need of help, often they call their pastor. Pastors have some training in this arena and there are those who are better at it than others (as in every vocation). The help could be with something external or something more hidden, things of the soul. Helping another gets noticed, not that they necessarily are doing it for that reason, but at least they can file it in a report a little more readily than 'prayer time.' Helping gets noticed, it gets rewarding feedback. As I said, all Pastors have egos too.
The other all too common task is to become a manager. Every Pastor who has been trained to be a Pastor will tell you that administrating a building, overseeing a business meeting, recruiting, maintaining an organizational structure is NOT what they were trained to do. Now some jump in and do it admirably well. Others suffer through it with a new found motivation for Jesus' return. But again, management ministry gets noticed, it gets rewarded. At least the congregation can see what they're doing.
While the messianic and managerial tasks are all too often necessary they destroy the pastoral work within these servants. I know too many of these folks who find the pressure to perform and dance in these two attractions that they never learned to develop the necessary heart to engage in the original work of pastoring. Many fell victim in their early days to this pattern. They built a good resume around their accomplishments.
But most never had a pastor themselves. They never had someone who was safe, to be prayed for in having their ego transformation rather than a new leadership skill or book given to them. There is rarely a safe place, a sanctuary, to share their soul's angst and fight against temptations or the repentance from falling into that temptation. Grace is rarely extended to Pastors. When it's not given to Pastors, it's usually not extended to members of the congregation.
For those Pastors who have a Pastor, who have someone to share their soul with, these are the ones who are finding the recovery of the original pastoral work. When they are praying they are able to walk with their congregation. They aren't recruiting them, they are listening to them. They aren't passing out cookie cutter advice. They become soul friends to people in the marketplace who struggle with walking out their faith in environments that bashes every effort a Pastor puts into a good sermon or lecture. A sermon or class lecture never transforms a soul. Providing a safe place for another and listening to another's uphill struggle is the gift that greases the sled for the Spirit to transform, to grow, to sanctify.
There is an ancient term which is used to clarify this pastoral work of prayer and tending to another's soul. It's called spiritual direction. This is what the original essence of the call to be a pastor was about. It's one reason Rhythm of Grace was formed. It is a pastoral ministry. Spiritual direction is offered to Pastors, but also to all who desire to walk in that lifelong calling to 'come, follow Me.'
We're here to pastor; we pray, we provide a safe environment, we listen, we follow. If you'd like to explore spiritual direction, give me a call and let's talk. We have a network of qualified spiritual directors to assist you in your pilgrimage.
* Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant; An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing CO., 1992, Pgs. 178-181