The Fig Leaf of Pastoral Ministry: Part 1

“…they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” — Genesis 3:7

I’ll have to go back to my graduate studies for this one.

My pastor was on the the Board of Covenant Theological Seminary, where some friends and I were studying. When he would come up from Birmingham for Board meetings, he would take us out for dinner. This was always a highlight. You know, free food and all.

One night we were all sitting around talking and he asked how our studies were going. I can remember where I was sitting in that Longhorn Steakhouse when I told him I was having trouble with how the content was not only continually challenging me on an academic level (which I expected) but it was leveling me emotionally (which I had not expected).

My studies had become a huge part of my sanctification. And not just in how I did them but in the very content. I can’t remember all he told me but I remember walking away with an understanding of my need to embrace it and see it all for my good. I needed to roll with it knowing I’m not justified by my grasp of the content or even my growth in it.

This is the way it’s supposed to be.

Fast forward. Last November — for the first time since 1997 when I started pursuing ministry — I was seriously thinking about not being a pastor. I had looked jealously at the work of the Fed-Ex driver previously but no serious entertainment of leaving the pastorate had been done. But this was different. I was worried about my own emotional health and my family’s. The work was demanding a toll and we were running out of resources to pay the fare. Literally and figuratively.

So we started thinking about me resigning from being an associate pastor. But after our pastor resigned a few weeks later, we knew we could not leave. So we waited. And prayed. And hoped.

And then about 6 months ago the decision was made. I would resign from being a pastor.

There were lots of difficulties to be considered. How would people perceive this? What would I do? What could I do? Will I be happy doing something else? How will this affect the people at church? But all these were pretty easily dealt with compared to one haunting question.

How will this affect my relationship with God?

When you’re in vocational ministry, no effort is required for you’re performance in ministry to be confused with you’re standing before God. The people you serve starting taking on the significance of the Creator of the Universe. Actually, that’s not true. It’s their perception of us we dress up in gilded shiny yellow and then bow down to.

Sure, we are sinful. But we are pastors. And so we cover the shame of our respectable sins with the fig leaf of pastoral righteousness.

I just got one question – What if you are no longer going to be a pastor?

(To be continued…)

2 thoughts on “The Fig Leaf of Pastoral Ministry: Part 1

  1. Rachel Garcia, CD(DONA) September 19, 2011 / 12:18 pm

    you become the ordinary that your book is about. The ordinary who stays home and, seemingly, does nothing but change stinky diapers all day and disrupt sibling rivalries. The ordinary who works at a job and rarely gets an opportunity to share the majesties of God and see people's lives deeply affected as they "take on the significance of God." Yet, in that ordinary the Glory of God IS displayed. When that mother responds to her child in kindness and helps them understand God and His goodness even in the slightest way. And when that worker builds small relationships with those he sits with everyday, works with or eats lunch with. He is able to "shine his light" so that others will see Christ. They see him, they smell Him, they know there is something different that that ordinary worker has that they do not. In so doing, God is most magnified. Matt, this is the crux of what the rest of us in the pew struggle to hear from those in the pulpit. Because we think that the only ministry worthy of calling is the one in vocational ministry. And fail to recognize the truth that God is immensely glorified in the menial, seemingly, other unimportant jobs out there. This is where the rubber meets the road for your (as Bob calls it) head theology and your functional theology. You are just as pleasing to the Father if you are a pastor or a banker. And your standing with him, unaffected. We all have a fig leaf that we try to use. Thankfully God will reveal it, because he loves us and then the next level of intimacy begins.

  2. Southern Cheesehead September 19, 2011 / 2:20 pm

    I can only answer from our experience. Ern has been in vocational ministry our entire marriage (19 years). Right now he's pastoring and not getting paid for it so he also has a full time "regular" job. Honestly, he's the same on Sunday at our church plant as he is M-F (and sometimes Sat) at his "regular" job. We've never subscribed to the theory that pastors should be "abnormal" and "better" than anyone else. We're just real people…some of the churches we've been in over the years don't know how to take that and it didn't go over so well. We're ok with that. 🙂

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