A few months ago I sat with two men and discussed the ministry over lunch. One was a young pastor, having been ordained and in the ministry for a short time. The other was his intern; a young fellow who was assisting and beginning his preparations for the ministry.
The pastor asked me what advice I would give his intern as he prepares for the ministry. I responded by saying, "If you can do anything else, do it."
This answer encapsulated two things. First, it has in focus the fact that a man must be impelled to preach and pastor. That is to say, he must have that drive that Jeremiah had wherein he had a fire in his bones that could not be put out. It is the heart of the Apostle Paul who was compelled to preach and said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel."
In sum, I mean that there is nothing else he can do. Sales will not fit him. Mechanics is not satisfying, however noble that calling may be for others. There is simply a compulsion that rages within him to the exclusion of everything else.
Secondly, when I say "If you can do anything else, do it," I express something of the pain of the pastorate. Church leadership is difficult and fraught with all kinds of sorrow. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet for good reason. You cannot downgrade in any way the hardships Paul faced either.
The pastorate comes with tears. Over the years I have lost several of my best friends. They were not only parishioners for whom I prayed and labored, neither were they simply endeared colleagues and co-laborers. They were people with whom I spent absurd amounts of time and had a bosom bond. We shared our lives and laughed together. Then, in almost an instant, they were against me and gone.
Such loss was worse than a friend dying because they were very much alive. They were alienated not by death, but by hatred and faction. I readily confess that it would be better to have lost them to death, because we could part in peace and a spirit of unity. But the losses I experienced were deeper and harder.
To be sure, such can be the lot of any Christian. This is not merely indicative of leadership, but it is expressive of it. Leaders will be called to "endure hardship." There is a reason why Paul tells Timothy to be a good soldier. The metaphor of being at war and bombarded with hostility is a threat that should not be overlooked.
So I reiterate: if you can do anything else, do it. The ministry is not for the faint of heart.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.
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