Ministry is Messy: A Word for Future Pastors

I remember working a summer job at Lizard’s Thicket in Greenville. It was the kind of place where older people came in and instead of ordering the food they wanted by name, they would order by color. “Let’s see,” they would say, “I already have an orange and a brown…I need a green. I’ll have the green beans.”

Every so often, a family with small children would sit in my section, and after they left it looked like someone had thrown a vegetable grenade on and underneath the table. That is what ministry is like:  messy.

Rarely has someone that I’ve pastored ever called me, come by or shot me an email just to tell me how well everything was going in their life. Any time that I receive a text from someone saying “Can I call you?” it’s not because they enjoy my company, it’s because there’s a problem.

I have been in a pastoral role for only nine years now, and in that short amount of time I have encountered a vast array of life issues. From having a church member with terminal brain cancer, to answering questions about suicide, ministry is rarely quick and clean.

To prepare for ministry interactions in your calling, you can read books, attend classes and listen to others speak about situations within their ministry. While these options are not extensive or complete, they are beneficial and will help to provide insight on what could happen within your area of ministry.

In John 17, Jesus prays for His disciples saying,

“…Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction [Judas], that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

The words that Jesus speaks in His “High Priestly Prayer” must be the heartbeat of pastors towards their congregation. A pastor must love those that he is shepherding the way Christ loves His disciples.

Jesus asks that the disciples be one.

Churches that are not unified split all of the time, and a pastor’s job in his ministry is in some ways to be aware of “family” strife, and to work towards resolving matters of contention among members. This means the pastor must be invested in the lives of his members and know the attitudes, hurts and joys that his members hold. In knowing the congregation well, a pastor is better equipped to minister to them as family.

Christ says that He has “guarded them.”

Part of a pastor’s job is just like that of a parent. Not to keep your children or congregation from experiencing life, but to protect them from false-teaching and the lies of the Devil that so easily ensnare. Pastors must be on-guard for their members preparing them for what they may encounter.

Jesus desires that the disciples experience the same joy He knows.

Pastors must be people who know the Lord, and because they know the Lord, they know the joy of the Lord. This joy is what fuels the pastor’s heart for missions and evangelism. The heart-fulfilling life-changing joy that comes from knowing Christ is a fire within the bones of a believer that is consistently stoked by being in the presence of the Lord and sharing this joy with others.

Consider the joy that is had when a family goes to a family court to officially adopt a child. The child is ecstatic to have a family, the judge is elated to bring together the two parties and the parents are thrilled because their family is growing. This is that joy, the joy of a new brother or sister in Christ. The joy of them being adopted by the King.

Christ says that He has given the disciples His Word.

Pastors must be able to “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2).” Christ gave the Word to the disciples and lived it out in front of them. Like Christ, pastors must proclaim the gospel to their people and image Christ to their congregation.

Our Lord is not unaware of what may happen to His disciples, and even though they will be hated, and ultimately many of them will be killed, He does not ask the Father to take them out of the world, but to protect them.

Pastors need to understand that their church members will experience great pain and loss, and there will be times where even they themselves will be driven to their knees with questions about the will of the Lord.

It is in these moments when the shepherd must lead his people into the sovereign comfort of God. 2 Corinthians 1:3b-4 says that He is the “…God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Jesus then adds a “Great Commission” aspect to His prayer when He says that He is sending the disciples out.

Pastors must remember that the people they shepherd are not theirs, but the Lord’s. This is difficult when people come and go out of the church.  So many in our churches mean so much to us, and yet the will of the Lord is for people to go and make disciples.

It’s a hard life being a pastor…a pastor’s wife or the child of a pastor; but it’s worth it. It is a life and calling of sacrifice that is in some ways the same that is demanded of all those that claim Christ. Jesus says to believers, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:38-39).

So are you called to pastor? Pray and ask the Lord to show you if you are. Then be ready to go where He sends you, and shepherd those that He called you to. There is great joy to be found in the Lord and the messy ministry you will serve in.

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