This is a guest post by Pete Greasley, Lead Pastor of Christchurch in Newport, Whales.
“Am I called to pastoral ministry?” Good question. It’s a vital question, not only for your own life, but for those you love and the church for which Jesus shed his blood.
In trying to ascertain the answer, I have another question (well, four really) that take it a bit further and break it down a little.
Simply this: Am I the right man, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reason?
This website predominantly tries to help answer the first question, “Am I the right man?” As for the second two, those are questions that can really only be answered by your own prayer and conviction—together with those who know and love you—and the church that will carry the ongoing responsibility of issuing a ‘specific’ call to service.
But it’s the last question: the “why?”; the motive; the internal drives and desires that cause us to pursue a ministry calling that I want to briefly bring to the fore and help us examine in this blog post.
Here’s my sweeping conclusion (I’m not the first to do so, Titus 1:12-13!) after considering myself, and many leaders I’ve encountered in over 30 years of pastoral ministry: Most men enter pastoral ministry for the wrong reason.
That may be a little harsh. It’s probably more accurate to say “for mixed reasons.” Sure, I love the Lord, love the church, am passionate to serve the gospel, and feel a strong calling to give my life for something that has meaning and purpose in seeing that very gospel spread abroad. But at the same time, there can be a part of me, if I’m completely honest (few of us are), that deeply desires to be respected, regarded, listened to, honored, loved and adored! We love the praise of men; and pastoral ministry can be one sure-fire way to get it.
As a church, we’re preaching through the gospel of Mark. Last week I preached from Mark 12:38-40: “Beware of the Scribes!” Jesus, after a number of confrontations with the religious leaders in the temple, exposes their sinful acts and motives. Although the way it plays out may look different than that of his close followers, those same motives have been bubbling over in the disciples too! They want exactly the same kind of honor and respect we see the scribes clamoring for. Sadly, at different times, for most of us, so do we.
It plays out in so many ways, from something as simple as fishing for compliments after a message – “Was that okay? Did it serve you?”, or a slight exaggeration of, “how many were there?” to leaving destitute your church and finding another (more prestigious) pastoral position, where you can have “increased influence for the sake of the gospel.” Along with that, the media circus of sites like Twitter and Facebook provides another whole global sphere for my, well … sinful self-obsession. The opportunity to be a “player” to connect with the “Inner Ring,” to re-tweet a re-tweet of my tweet (again, for the sake of the gospel of course), to possibly “go viral” because a bigger player than me has promoted my…
Do you see it? It’s exhausting, and I’ve seen men either lose their marbles to keep up or disintegrate in dismayed disillusionment and leave the ministry because they can’t.
There is a better way. Enter ministry for the right reason.
When I left school in the mid-seventies (correction: was thrown out) at 16, I lied my way into a job as a management trainee with Woolworths. I loved it. Six months later, I had a full assessment and was told very clearly, “You’re no world-beater. The best you’ll ever achieve is manager of a small store in a backward town.” I spent the next five years unsuccessfully doing all I could to prove them wrong.
After I became a Christian and (too soon) found myself released to full time pastoral ministry, I brought that same desire to prove myself into the ministry with me. I’ve seen a similar drive with guys who come from the opposite spectrum: firsts from Oxford or Cambridge having to live up to their own (and others) expectations.
I dreamt of being the new C.H. Spurgeon and crowds gathering to hear me preach or read my sermons. Well, after many years at it, I can confirm that it certainly has only proved to be “in my dreams!” I remember hearing early on that famous quote from the Baptist missionary, William Carey: “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.” It was only many decades later when I read about his life that I questioned some of the fruit produced and the errors he made under that banner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as ambitious as I’ve always been. But, by the grace of God, my ambitions have been redirected to a large degree. It’s just the “great things” I’m attempting are now far, far less focused on me trying to do something that gets me known or noticed, especially by my peers, and far more about trying to faithfully serve the Savior in the small sphere in which I’m placed. I’m a pastor. I have a flock I’ve been privileged to serve for over 20 years. They know me, warts ‘n all, and still put up with me.
“Attempt great things?” It’s a great thing to be able to prepare and deliver sermons to the same people every week. It’s a great thing to sit with a couple going through struggles and help them apply the gospel. It’s a great thing to spend a week lying asleep on the floor of a hospital room waiting with a precious saint so they’re not alone in those final hours. It’s a great thing to see someone come to know the Lord after years of prayer. It’s a great thing to perform the wedding ceremony of someone you also dedicated as a baby. The list is unending. Greatness, personally, redefined.
I thank God for men like Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Tim Keller etc. I really, really do. Their ministry, along with many others, have been a help to me beyond words. But I’m not them. I can’t do what they can do, and the reality is most men in ministry, most of the time, will not even be close to doing what they have done, and that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It strikes me that the church has thrived and grown over 2,000 years, not primarily because of your Wesleys and Edwards and Whitefields, but due to the faithful, obscure service of unremarkable men whose names we don’t know or have all forgotten, and in whom the Savior has taken delight and entrusted his precious flock.
I’ve read some great books over the past few years, but none have probably effected me as much as D.A. Carson’s book about his Dad, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. It’s not a great page-turner, not particularly exciting or filled with Dr. Carson’s usual sharp insights. In fact, I found it pretty ordinary. And that’s the whole point! Reading about Tom Carson’s life was encountering the still, small voice of God saying to me, “this is good, this is right, this is you.”
I’m so grateful that Jesus called the disciples even knowing all the wrong motives in their heart for self-promotion. I’m so grateful he did the same with me. And I’m grateful for ongoing grace that is even now, still weaning me off the “wrong” reasons for ministry and helping me enjoy the right ones. It’ll never be fully sorted this side of glory, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, I press forward.