Consider this my cover letter. I hate cover letters. Really, they drive me nuts. So let this be mine. Keep in mind as you read, these are aspirations and never arrivals. I may never get there. But God, I want to. And it is only he that can get me there. I hope this post doesn’t come across as narcissistic. Some will see that. They may be right. But I’m gonna risk it. I think what I’ve learned while not in vocational ministry is too important. You may think there are a number of obvious things I’ve left out. Feel free to assume I’ve done those things well in the past…
What follows is a description of the kind of pastor I want to be.
1) If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, its the difference between ministering to people with a theology of glory instead of a theology of the cross. When I was a pastor the first time around I worked out of the first paradigm. It bred an arrogance that placed me in a place of importance over against the people I was called to serve. If the cross is true then it is not only the power by which we minister, the message we preach, but also the example of how we must deal with those whom we are called to. There must be a kind of laying down of our lives for people. The pastorate is not a well-paid therapist but a shepherd with sheep he must be willing to bleed for.
2) I want to bury them. My ministry for the most has been some time here and some time there. Sure, good done everywhere. I’m thankful for those times of service. But I want to be somewhere long enough to watch them grow old and then bury them.
3) I want to preach and teach and counsel in a way that betrays the steadfast loving-kindness of God and his gospel of what he has done in Christ for sinners. I bought into a way of preaching and teaching that said conviction of sin was the measure of power in preaching. If they were convicted and felt guilty, mission accomplished. Sometimes, yes. But sometimes God’s people need to hear, “You are not alone” and “Be not afraid.” “You are forgiven. Relax.” You don’t have to buy into Osteen’s theology to see the resplendent kindness of the message throughout the Scriptures to comfort the wounded and sad and hurting.
4) No easy answers. There are none. Our bumper sticker theologizing is killing the soul. And those who long for easy answers will not be patient with those who don’t accept them. And our culture is full to the brim with those who will not tolerate them. I want to be patient and live comfortably with the tension.
5) One of the things I struggled with in ministry was the work/life balance. I did not handle this well. Every intrusion was unwelcome. I started ministry seeing anything that cut into family time as an intrusion to the way things should be. Some pastors err on the side of neglecting their families. I erred on the other side and never saw the blurred lines between ministry and family as a good thing. When I left the ministry, I looked forward to a job where you clock in and clock out. The only thing that could have convinced me I was not made for such a job is actually doing that kind of job. I know this sounds crazy, but if someone called me in the middle of the night for counsel or to rush to someone’s bedside, I would revel in the opportunity. That’s not bragging. I’ve been through much fighting within to feel this way.
6) Just because I want to bury them doesn’t mean I want to kill them. I’ve been in the workforce for over 2 years now. And I’ve seen two things I could not have seen otherwise. Volunteering for the church is a real sacrifice when it is not your job to do so. And I’m sure I’m *not* an ideal volunteer so I need to be patient with those who are reticent. People are busy. Probably too busy. But telling them that doesn’t work. I want to be patient when people are slow to volunteer. My first reaction was to assume they don’t care about the church. It wasn’t fair.
7) The push and pull of suffering teaches you something about prayer. Especially when the troubles persist. Prayer is powerful. It changes you. And you find yourself praying just as hard and often when the suffering wanes and you find yourself more ready when it waxes anew. If Eugene Peterson has taught me anything about the pastorate, it’s that I wanna pray more as part of being a pastor. It’s more important than study, counseling, teaching and vision plans.
8) Honestly, my critics were nearly always people to be dismissed. That was a mistake. Truthfully, I was most likely worse than they knew. But I knew it. And I was defensive. I don’t want to fear criticism anymore.
9) Somewhere I bought into the idea that because I was the leader, I knew what was best for the people I was leading. I knew what the people needed far more than they did. It’s really a lonely way to live. But I was often working with elders and men and women who had invested a great deal of their lives in that congregation. It doesn’t mean they would be right in their thoughts about the direction and decisions about the church and its purpose. But those opinions should be respected. Maybe, just maybe, if I’m attentive in prayer and in study of the Scriptures, we can makes those decisions together in a way that honors God and edifies the body of Christ.
10) I don’t want to be afraid of offending the powerful but I do want to be afraid of not caring for the marginal.
11) The work of Jesus to save sinners and make all things new is to be central. I want that more than anything.
Wow! I wish more pastors had this point of view. I have known only a couple in my life. I have often felt invisible in my congrgation.
Matt whether you know it or not you have been a pastor to me and many others who read your blog and book. From the bottom of my heart thank you.
Matt whether you know it or not you are and have been a “long distance” pastor through this blog and your book. From the bottom of my heart thank you.
Excellent Matt. You’ll make a good one.
Very well done!
Thank you, Matt.
I’d like to have a pastor with your perspective. What is most attractive is the underlying themes of humility and honesty that come through this cover letter – all your writing. Those qualities alone will be of great benefit to your pastoral ministry. Your willingness to be transparent with the challenges and triumphs you’ve wrestled with in the “real world” workplace make you accessible and valuable to the people to whom you will minister.
Being out of the ministry long enough to realize that it costs the congregant who works full time and has a family & community life to volunteer at the church is truly a gift from God … for all of us!
Recognizing that leaders are not the ones with all the answers, as if their position suddenly makes them understand what everyone is going through, what their lives are like, and what the answers are, is also an amazing gift.
I remember long ago living in Birmingham, attending a small church and feeling smugly, arrogantly light years ahead of the old people (over 30) who didn’t “do” what I thought they should do at the church. I complained. Meanwhile, the women brought me food when my father died; people gathered to comfort me; a man gave me a job even though I would not be in town for long; a family opened up their home to me; they were kind and patient while I was stewing in my pride. I didn’t have a clue, because I had a title and simply saw myself as there to “help” these poor people to get with the program. God put those people there to love me through this terrible phase till I could finally learn to honor others and respect their reality of life.
I’ve been thinking. Pastors organize pastoral conferences to learn from one another. I get that. But maybe you could organize conferences where the pastors/leaders can learn from the average person attending church. Though I abhor conferences, this is one I would deem beneficial.