What is pastoral ministry?

Whenever I am introduced to new people or meet old friends the same question is always asked: “What do you do?” or “What are you doing now?” My usual answer to this question is “I am training for pastoral ministry at Southern Seminary.” Most people who here this are probably doubly-perplexed.  “Why does he go to a Southern Baptist seminary, and what the heck is pastoral ministry?”

Well, last week I answered the first question (see here), and this week I’ll start to work on the second:

I can sympathize with someone who does not know what pastoral ministry is. Being a pastor is different from other professions in many ways.  One of these differences is that it is not self-evident what pastor’s do.

For instance, when someone tells me they are a car mechanic I immediately know what they do. They fix cars. I even have some type of familiarity with car problems and understand that we need specialists to fix them.

Or what about medical doctors. If someone tells me they are a doctor I automatically know a bit of what their day is like. They go to their office or the hospital. Their patients come to the office or hospital. The patients tell them their problem, and the doctor fixes them. Over and over this happens until the day is done.

Obviously, there is much I’m leaving out, but in general I know the types of things that most workers do upon them simply giving me their job title. I do not think this is so for pastors.

This is true for me when I think about the pastors that led the churches that I grew up in. I saw them on Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, and that was about it. I figure they went to the hospital to visit sick church members once a week or so, and they probably spent at least one afternoon working on their sermon. Still, all of this could be done in one day. Even the Sunday morning service  just lasts Sunday morning. They have the afternoon off of their busiest day of the week!

So what in the world do pastors do? What is pastoral ministry?

Last semester I got some help on this question in an article from a writer named Kevin DeYoung. He is a pastor of Reformed University Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is a stellar writer, and I commend his blog to you. In this particular article Kevin was listing twenty pieces of advice he would share with seminarians or young pastors. Number four was this: “Establish your priorities at the church early and clearly. I suggest: preach, pray, and people.”

When I read that I thought, “Voilà! That’s it! That is what pastoral ministry is all about: preaching, praying, and people.” Over the last six months I have continued to test this as a legitimate paradigm for pastoral ministry. As I’ve reflected on the Scriptures, read different biographies of pastors, and looked at the lives of the pastors in my own life, I continue to be affirmed that it is. Pastors preach, pray, and people (I know people is not a verb, but I’ll explain as we go).

So, my idea was to begin to use this blog as a place to record my developing thoughts on each of these three tenets of pastoral ministry. There are some of these that I am stronger at than others, but I need growth in all of them. Being intentional about thinking through each one will be helpful, and I hope it will prove beneficial to you.

I will start with three posts briefly trying to show how the Scriptures supports this three-fold paradigm for pastoring. In other words I will be asking, Is this what the pastors did as recorded in the New Testament? Was their priority preaching, praying, and people? Within these posts I will also share some of my personal experience with each one of these aspects: preaching, praying, and people.

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