Interact Magazine 1990
Volume 1 Number 1
In no other vocation is the quality of personal life and character so crucial as in pastoral work. The impact of such work is not ultimately determined by gift, training, academic accomplishment, personality, enthusiasm or by a host of other things, but by what the pastor is himself.
Francis of Assisi once took a young novice with him on a preaching tour. The novice expected to learn much about preaching and pastoring, but was puzzled and disappointed to find that Francis went from town to town without saying a word. ‘But I thought we were going to preach!’ he protested. Francis replied: ‘We have preached. We were observed as we walked. They marked us as we went by. That was how we preached.’
Pastors minister most effectively not by what they say or do, but by what they are. Hence the all-importance of his inner life and character.
What sort of person should a pastor be? More than anything else he is to be utterly dedicated to his calling. That is not to say that he never relaxes or takes a holiday, or that he has no time for or interest in anything not directly related to his ministry. But it is to say that he lives life in the light of Paul’s words:
‘I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace…..I declare to you that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.’
To live life in the light of such words and at the same time to be half-hearted, lazy, slack, or lethargic is unthinkable!
Together we such commitment goes the deepest humility. A proud, arrogant, intolerant, over-bearing pastor is a contradiction in terms. How can anyone be anything but humble in the face of the magnitude of the task – to ‘Present everyone perfect in Christ’? Add to that the appalling unworthiness of the preacher – who is he to speak in the name of God?? And add to that the fact that if anything is to occur in the lives of people it will be God’s work and nobody else’s. And for good measure, reflect that the day is to come when the pastor, who has been appointed to ‘keep watch’ over the souls of men, will one day have to ‘give an account’. No one who for the briefest of moments has glimpsed these awesome realities can be proud or disdainful! Humility of the deepest kind is the only fit uniform for the pastor.
In the third place, the pastor must be a person of clear personal vision. Vision, that is, not in the secular or even the popular Christian sense, but in the profoundly Biblical sense. Over three hundred years ago, an English merchant, Robert Wodrow by name, described to his London friends certain preachers he had heard during a business visit to Scotland. At St Andrews he had listened to Robert Blair. ‘That man’, he observed, ‘showed me the majesty of God.’ Later he heard Samuel Rutherford, ‘and that man showed me the loveliness of Christ,’ he said. Finally, at Irvine, he listened to David Dickson, ‘… and that man showed me all my heart.’ Such is the three-fold personal vision that is indispensable to any pastor – the majesty of God, the loveliness of Jesus, and the sinfulness of the human heart. Let him lose or never have such a vision, and the pastor becomes a mere professional – ‘a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’.
In addition to these qualities, the pastor is to be a person of zeal and passion. Commitment may be formal, humility may be contrived. Vision even of the majesty of God, the glory of Christ, and the sinfulness of the human heart may, after all, be matters of intellectual comprehension. All of these need to be fired by a zeal and passion that comes from the Holy Spirit alone. Words written long ago in the book of Leviticus still speak to us in a deeper way than their surface meaning – ‘The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.’ Once let the fire of passion go out, and the pastor has ceased to be pastor in any true sense of the word.
A person of commitment, humility, vision and zeal – such the pastor is to be. And in so being, he will safe-guard himself against those deadly enemies that lie in wait for him – deadening familiarity with holy things; equally deadening familiarity with every-day things; barren professionalism; loss of spirituality; the subtle pull of the world; moral failure; and a host of other things. And if it be asked how such qualities of life and character are acquired, the answer is simple. There is no technique. There is no method. There are no short cuts. They are forged as we keep constant company with the One in whom these qualities were perfectly exemplified. As, through personal prayer, Bible study, meditation and communion we learn to live in company with Him, so ‘we are transformed into His likeness with every-increasing glory’.
He who would mould others into the likeness of Christ, must first himself be moulded. He who would speak to others the Word of God, must first himself be spoken to. He who would teach others the deep things of God must first himself be taught. He who would shepherd others must first himself know what it is to be shepherded. there is no other way to become what we need to be, if we are to do what we have been given to do.
Formerly Principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College, Howard Green is now pastor of the South Granville Baptist Church. He is also Chairman of both the International and Australian Councils of Middle East Christian Outreach (MECO) and spends a period each year ministering to missionaries, pastors and churches in the Middle East.
© Rev Howard Green (1 March 1990)