People: The Aim, Context, and Variable of Variables of Pastoral Ministry

A final post on what pastoral ministry is. First I wrote about preaching, then praying, and now peopling:

Without a doubt writing about this final aspect of pastoral ministry has been the hardest for me. It is not that I doubt its worth to be placed within this paradigm for understanding pastoral ministry. It is because people are the variable of pastoral ministry that makes for a thousand variables. People are the dynamic of pastoral ministry that make this venture into pastoral ministry a bit daunting to me. Let me try to explain.

If you gave me a group of people and said, “C.T., preach to them.” My heart would leap in my chest. I love to preach. I never feel more alive. Nothing makes me tick like heralding the word of God.

And if you gave me a group of people and said, “C.T., pray for them.” Again, I wouldn’t have to think twice about this. I struggle with prayer like everyone else, but sensing my duty and their need and God’s faithfulness my positive response to your request would come quite naturally.

But if you said, “C.T., live with these people. Train these people. (2 Tim 3:16) Be an example for these people. (1 Tim 4:12) Rejoice with these people. Mourn with these people. Listen to these people. Be patient with these people. (2 Tim 2:25) Eat with them. Answer their ill-timed phone calls. Invite them to your home. Say ‘yes’ to their invitations. Hold them accountable. Confront them. Rebuke them. Exhort them. (Titus 2:15) Drain yourself emotionally and physically for these people. (2 Tim 4:6) Encourage them. Stop their quarreling and promote peace. (Titus 3:2; 2 Tim 2:14) Patiently dissuade them from false teaching. (1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 4:2-3) Extinguish their love for the world. (2 Tim 3:2, 4:10) Break the bonds of their hypocrisy. (2 Tim 3:5). Affirm in them what is good and pure. (Phil 4:8) Endure everything for them. (2 Tim 2:10) Put out the unrepentant among them. (1 Tim 1:20) Teach the men to stop fighting and to start praying. (1 Tim 1:9) Teach the women to dress appropriately and submit to their husbands. (Col 3:18; 1 Tim 2:9-15)…”

Picture me: loud gasp, jaw dropped, and my fluttery heart is a million miles away.

I have a good friend who was a part of our church in Birmingham. Multiple times when we were discussing life and relationships he would say to me towards the end of our conversation, “Discipleship and ministry are messy.” That simple phrase has always stuck with me. People are the aim and context of pastoral ministry, but we are the variables of variables. We change everything. If it were just preaching and praying, then I’d have all my ducks in a row and scheduled to a T. But being a pastor means pastoring people.

Don’t get me wrong. I love people, and I especially love Christians. However, sometimes I wonder if I am more excited about pastoring than I am about pastoring people. I have to question if my love for people is more theoretical than it is actual or functional.

Seeking to grow and learn in these regards is just as much a part of my seminary experience as learning Hebrew is. As I have more thoughts about pastoral ministry and people, this blog will be a helpful place to write and thus to think through these things.

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