There are many things a man prepares himself for when he thinks about the pastorate. If he has been blessed to be a part of a healthy congregation with godly and wise elders, then he hasn’t considered a call to ministry in some blind fashion. He prepares himself for a kind of work that is demanding. There is the rigorous training required prior to serving as a pastor. He realizes that such a weighty responsibility (watching for souls) requires pastoral training that includes scholarship, mentorship, apprenticeship, and fellowship (TES pillars). Once he enters the pastorate he expects that there will be much time in prayer and study, and many long hours invested on behalf of the people he is privileged to serve. The word of God is meant to be given by men who give of themselves (1 Thess 2:8). Along with the work that the prospective pastor has directly associated with ministry, he discovers that there will be many practical matters that call for his attention which belong to the realm of oversight and administration. In the midst of all of this hard work he must do as Charles Spurgeon exhorted and never neglect the culture of himself:
It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organise societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war. M’Cheyne, writing to a ministerial friend, who was travelling with a view to perfecting himself in the German tongue, used language identical with our own: — “I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, his instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
He must also shepherd his family faithfully. If a man doesn’t know how to manage his own family, he is not qualified to care for the church (1 Tim 3:5). Even as he cares for the local church, he is first loving his wife and his children. If his parents are living, then as they age, he is to be faithful in his care for them. He is faithful to love his brothers and sisters in the flesh, as well as his brothers and sisters in the family of God. Whether considered as a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a friend, a neighbor, or a pastor, he is a pattern of faithfulness. God requires stewards to be faithful with the mysteries of the faith, yes, but that same faithfulness is the standard for success in all of his responsibilities (1 Cor 4:1-6).
It is because of the knowledge of all of these truths, and the mental readiness to pursue this standard by God’s grace, that the man who desires to be a faithful pastor may one day meet with a startling discovery. The man who has been called to this kind of faithfulness is human. He is a redeemed human; a man who has been saved by Christ and then given a unique calling and the requisite giftedness for that calling, but still nothing more or less than human. Intellectually he has known this all along. Theologically, he would never expect anything different. After all, in many cases he is theologically trained. He has studied the biblical languages. He has been affirmed by the church. He gives his life to the study and proclamation of the scriptures. In what way could it ever be said of him that his humanness surprises him? He knows that he is a sinner saved by God’s grace and needing God’s grace from beginning to end. He understands that he is cut from the same cloth as every other redeemed saint who bows before the Savior and gives praise for mercy. His only boast is Christ and his story from beginning to end is sovereign grace. Can such a man be surprised by his own humanness?
His humanness may surprise him when he learns by experience that the ministry will test him internally as much or more than it does externally. Pastors are not another breed of human being. Pastors will deal with all of the vicissitudes of life and the whole range of human emotions that accompany those tests. What’s more, the longer he lives, the more that he ages, he may discover new challenges to which he thought he was immune. Let me put it plainly. Pastors get discouraged. Pastors get disappointed. Pastors get their feelings hurt. Pastors feel unappreciated. Pastors feel the sting of betrayal. Pastors feel the shame and regret of their own failures. Pastors get tired. Pastors wonder if they are successful. Pastors have dreams for ministry that never materialize. Pastors have to put to death the sins of selfishness, personal ambition, the desire for recognition, and jealousy over someone else’s circumstances or recognition. I could go on but you get the picture. I may not have named your battle with a face-to-face awakening to your unredeemed humanness, but you can be certain that you will come face to face with it in the course of your ministry. Certainly genuine godliness and spiritual maturity – a life fixed on God’s glory and not a vision fixed on self – will inform and guide when faced with these things. But the struggle will be real and it will be felt.
This is why Spurgeon warned that we must not neglect the culture of ourselves. We were simple sheep long before we assumed a role as shepherds, and we are simple sheep all the while we serve as shepherds. It encourages me, in some strange way, when I read of Paul’s unrest in anticipation of how the Corinthians would respond to his painful letter. I see the reality of his humanity in his godly and faithful pleadings with a congregation that had been influenced, by ungodly people, to view him with suspicion (2 Cor 7:2-9). It is a real man, not a super human, who needs a cloak in prison, who longs to see his son in the faith, who grieves at the unfaithfulness of his friends, even as he boasts in the faithfulness of his God (2 Tim 4:9-18). If you desire to be a faithful pastor, to finish your course well, then you must kill the myth of the super-human pastor, and the place where it must die is in your own self-perspective. Your ministry is simply the way that you serve as you pursue Jesus Christ as a disciple. You will finish your course well only as you travel your course believing and obeying the basic things that you learned at the outset of the journey. Apart from humble faith, holy fear, and careful obedience, we are in danger (1 Cor 9:27). Let me remind you of a few basic commitments that must remain in our thinking, and you be faithful to remind me:
We are loved. God’s saving work in our lives is a work of everlasting love and it is a love from which we can never be separated (Rom 8:31-39). Absolutely nothing comes into my life that hasn’t come to me with a loving purpose from the hand of God. All of my tests are sovereignly regulated and with each one there is the opportunity and grace to glorify God.
Because we are loved we are disciplined. There is no son who is immune from the training of a loving father, and our Father in heaven is training us. There is nothing wasted in our lives, not even our sorrows, as we are being conformed to the image of our Savior (Heb 12:6).
We must live our lives in an atmosphere of repentance and forgiveness. The debt that we have been forgiven is incalculable, therefore, we must forgive every offense, regardless of the number of times that it must be forgiven. We will fail others and others will fail us. The only kind of human relationship that exists on this side of glorification is the kind that will need forgiveness to remain strong and healthy. Confess your sins to God and others. Rejoice in the forgiveness that Christ has given you and extend that same forgiveness to everyone in your life (Matt 18:21-35). Elders must be above reproach. This is not optional. A life of repentance and forgiveness is necessary to qualify.
Remember and embrace the truth that our God is sovereign and all-wise. Robert Murray M’Cheyne died before his 30th birthday. John MacArthur is still preaching strong at 80 years of age. Both will stand or fall before their master (Rom 14:4). God’s plan for one man may have him serving in a large church setting and another in relative obscurity. As stewards, as the Lord’s slaves, that is none of our concern. We must humbly bow to our Lord’s purposes for each one of us and strive for one thing, and one thing only – faithfulness. That is the measuring stick for a steward (1 Cor 4:2).
Magnify the grace of God. Who am I? What do I deserve? What do I have that has not been given to me? We are on our way home, our Savior stands at the door, and I want to be sure not to waste my life. What an incredible, unimaginable privilege that I get to serve my brothers and sisters, a blood purchased people, as an undershepherd of Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 4:1: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”
Take heart my brothers, God knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).
Richard Caldwell is one of our eleven TES campus pastors, having served as the senior pastor of Founders Baptist Church in Spring, TX since 1998.