Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts of praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction. Besides being basic, these three acts are quiet. They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to. In the clamorous world of pastoral work nobody yells at us to engage in these acts. It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them. Since almost never does anyone notice whether we do these things or not, and only occasionally does someone ask that we do them, these three acts of ministry suffer widespread neglect. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 3)
Convicting, or no? I guess it depends on your ministry and your ability to discipline yourself in these practices, and to what degree your conception of ”success” might lead you to neglect these three aspects of pastoral ministry. What I mean by success, of course, refers to the way ministry is measured, and how a mis-understanding of God’s economy can lead us to pour our energies into our ministry at the cost of depleting the resources contained within our own souls. Put differently, though we may desire to lead a successful ministry and bring that to reality, in doing so we may become failures in our relationship to God.
I am a pastor, though at times I reluctantly bear that title. I was ordained by the people of the First Baptist Church in Allen, Texas. Paul Powell, my pastor at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas during my childhood came as a guest to preach the charge. Chad Selph, pastor at FBC, made the arrangements for the service. A number of my 12 year old students prayed for me as part of our worship, commissioning me as a servant of Jesus Christ. This service followed a period of examination, prayer, and discernment concerning the very real call which had been placed upon my life to be in ministry to God’s people.
My calling to be in pastoral service was not prompted by a booming voice from heaven or an ecstatic experience. Rather, it was the natural response of faithfulness which was encouraged by fellow Christians who had served alongside me. Friends, pastoral leaders, Sunday school teachers, and co-workers recognized my gifts for ministry and were very clear in pointing out those gifts. A high school football coach, Gary Fleet, was pivotal when I was 19. After working a week with his son, Tyler at Green Acres Day Camp, Coach Fleet approached me and said, “You should do something like this for a living.”
Regardless of whether or not I am in a staff position with the local church, I serve as a pastor. I have served, in a sense, as a pastor within my department at the University of Kansas. When I was a barista with Starbucks Coffee Company I assumed a pastoral role with my co-workers.
When I consider my own formation as a pastoral leader I am careful to analyze the role which I have been called to play within the context of the various communities I have served along the way. Peterson is right–those who pay my salary would not yell at me to maintain such simple practices as prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction. Most of the questions I have been asked have been about events or attendance. The state of my soul has not been a common topic.
Peterson goes on to comment that the responsibility of pastor should be one of paying attention to God. Then, the pastor is able to extend the invitation to the congregation to likewise pay attention. Through prayer, Scripture reading, and spiritual direction the pastor is better equipped to enable the people to do so.
As I contemplate the future, I pray that I am a person who would take this challenge to heart. I pray that I would be one who would understand the centrality of these three practices, and possess the discipline by which I might care for my own soul as I pay attention to God through prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. I pray that I might lead others into postures whereby they might hear God and sense his leading and direction, and therefore that the church might be strengthened.
I pray that the church will be blessed with leaders who are strengthened spiritually as followers of Jesus Christ, by the will of the Father, and by grace through the Holy Spirit. Amen.