Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Yesterday I promised a few follow up thoughts from the interview with Paul David Tripp on his book. All Christians are called, first and foremost, to God in salvation. Moreover, all Christians are called, secondly and necessarily, to serve God in their respective vocational callings. For the Christian there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular as we do all by God’s grace, for God’s glory and the good of people. There are differences, however, in the how, not the why, of those various vocational callings. That is one of the issues Tripp addresses.
Regarding the uniqueness of pastoral ministry, here are three follow up matters to Tripp’s interview (and excellent book): vocational calling; friends; and sanctification.
Vocational Ministry. One of the unique aspects of a calling to and gifting for vocational ministry is that one generally gives all of one’s time to ministry in, to and with the church, the people of God. For others who are serving God in the church in a non-vocational capacity, i.e. in a non-pastoral role, they spend 40-50 hours in their vocation/job/ministry, and then an additional 5-10 hours are given to ministry directly in, to and with the church. For those in vocational ministry, those additional hours are doing “more of the same,” while for those whose vocation is outside the church those additional hours are doing something different that is more directly involved in the ministry of the Word. This brings with it certain challenges for each person in their respective ministries in the church.
Friends. Some would say that for those in vocational ministry, i.e. a pastor, their closest friends should not be those from the local church where they serve. Some of this may be related to the avoidance of being accused of playing favorites. It might also be for the reason that one will not be hurt through a betrayal or some hurt associated with ministry that affects one’s personal relationship/friendship. I heard this as a possible option when I was in seminary, but my wife and I never did follow that. We believed it was important to have friends in the church. Otherwise it has the feel of the pastor being exempt from what the Bible teaches and what is to be reflective of relationships among others within the church. It also has the feel that the pastor’s relationships are “professional,” that is they are related to ministry only. I believe the pastor is to serve as an example and model about life together in the body of Christ, imperfect as that model is, including relationships with others. With these deep and abiding friendships, one can be hurt deeply. That, however, is part of life in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified existence among God’s people. But it also means that one can experience the depth of relationships God has designed for believers in Christ that is a foretaste of those glorified relationships in heaven.
Sanctification. Spiritual growth happens as one engages in the spiritual disciplines. There is both an individual and corporate aspect to the disciplines. Ultimately, the disciplines in one’s life will be lived or manifested in the context of community. Sanctification never occurs in isolation. Because we are created for, called to and redeemed with others, spiritual growth has a corporate component. In fact, the true test of one’s spiritual growth is evident in life with others, i.e. marriage, Bible study small group, the church. The challenge with this reality from the pastor’s side is that he fears being transparent and vulnerable. He wants to project that he has it all together and does not have the same struggles others have. He is exempt from this sort of need for growth. Granted, these sorts of things ought not to be communicated with everyone, or even shared from the pulpit. But someone ought to be a fellow pilgrim along the way to share sorrows, struggles and joys. Because of expectations placed on pastors, not all know what do with these real-life confessions/struggles, and others will use them against the one who acknowledges the need for ongoing growth and sanctification. Part of the pastor’s fear is how people in the church view this. Often people conclude that the pastor should not have struggles, and if the pastor does, it calls into question the suitability to serve in that role. In other words, what is expected to be the normal means of grace and growth in the life of the believer is not allowed in the life of the pastor. This completely overlooks the biblical teaching on the “one another” commands, which is for all believers (e.g. Rom. 12:10, 16; 15:7; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:32; etc.). Additionally, it ignores/denies the truth that there is an important corporate aspect to our sanctification. The book of Hebrews exhorts us, which is corporate. Often the preacher writes “let us” (Heb. 4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:1, 28; 13:13), and he exhorts us to “encourage one another” to avoid sin (Heb. 3:12-13) and to gather together (Heb. 10:25).
I close with a few questions for reflection and application.