I love pastors! In recognition of Pastor Appreciation Month I want to tell you what I admire most about my fellow Wordworkers, beginning this week with humility (says I, who have so often been full of myself).
Pastoring, as we all know too well, can sometimes be a brutal business. Paul warned us, and Jesus, of course. For most of us ministry has been deeply gratifying but occasionally it can kick the stuffing out of a person. Ministry can carry such sharp cuts—the people who leave or who are lost, dreams that flop, cruel words, oh … you know. It’s a hard-found humility, and some pastors only come out resentful or arrogant, but I admire those who’ve lost some of their bravado, who got small without getting bitter.
It isn’t just what others do to us. Our own blunders reduce us also. In a letter to his pastor son, Eric, about “the uniqueness of being a pastor,” Eugene Peterson wrote,
… we make far more mistakes in our line of work than other so-called professionals. If physicians and engineers and lawyers and military officers made as many mistakes as we do in our line of work, they would be out on the street in no time. It amazes me still how much of the time I simply don’t know what I am doing, don’t know what to say, don’t know what the next move is. … But I had a sense much of the time (but not by any means continuously) that “not knowing what I am doing” is more or less what it feels like when I am “trusting in God” and “following Jesus.” [i]
I admire pastors who have discovered the alchemy of turning mistakes to golden faith because I know how slow and difficult that process can be.
Humility not only comes from wounds and ministry mess-ups, it also comes from being with Jesus. He teaches us the divine grace of stooping. I admire pastors who have embraced the basin and towel work of pastoring, like interruptions, hospital calls, and long listening while looking for a small opening into someone’s soul. I look up to those shepherds who, over the years, have become sweeter and more patient (longsuffering, to be more precise), who seem to always carry grace in their pockets.
A friend of mine who had been a senior pastor was asked to stay on a few months after his successor arrived. “Are you preaching at all,” I asked him. “No,” he replied. “I’m not doing anything publically anymore. Actually, I’m monitoring the bathrooms on Sunday morning.” (This was just as the church building was reopening after COVID-19.) “I sit on a chair between the doors and make sure only one person goes in at a time and then I go in and wipe everything down.” Then he added, “I don’t mind. I like it.” I admire him.
Finally, I look up to pastors who face up to their sin with Jesus. We seldom know the workings because it’s private. But sin, failures, and pastoral pressures harden some pastors. They take to disguises and masks. Genuineness seeps away. Looking in, we can’t usually tell just what’s gone wrong, but humility is not easy to fake. Those who come boldly to God’s throne of grace become right-sized. The gospel comes sweetly from their lips. They have nothing to prove but the mercies of Christ. I admire such ministers.
Be ye glad!
[i] Eric and Eugene Peterson, Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2020), pp. 13-14.
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.