Will the real pastor please stand up?
The pastor cohort is about as diverse as any group of professional working people, perhaps more so. There was a time in the last generation when a thoughtful person could profile pastors. As a child growing up in Baptist churches we were accustomed to revival preachers, conference leaders, homecoming speakers, special occasion guests, denominational workers, and others in our pulpit often during the church year. Except for the missionaries who wore those un-tucked mission field shirts they all looked alike, preached in a similar fashion, and typically covered predictable ground. They were men in suits who preached three-points-and-a-poem messages, and gave stirring invitations.
Not so today. That is why so many cookie cutter systems to minister to this group are so ineffective. It's the same reason most of our pre-packaged programs are fruitless in reaching and influencing our local communities. Diversity, and by that I mean differences beyond race, is the mark of this new world. It calls for a personalized relational touch rather than the broad strokes of systemic process. That's true with pastors too.
Chapter 1 of Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry is titled Finished, When it's Over before It Began. Based on thirty-five years of observation and up-close ministry with hundreds of pastors it includes a broad pastoral profile. The rationale for this character study is the Scriptural record of Jesus calling his first disciples. Since he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, what he was looking for in Peter, Andrew, James and John may be very consistent with the measure of those called to ministry today. You'll have to read the book to get the whole picture but they shared some character traits that are evident in most ministers I have known over the years. Notice I said most. Some of the people I've known defy description, individuals to the core. But, generally they have been servants who were---
1. Obedient, following Christ without question.
2. Willing to do something revolutionary, like fishing for men.
3. Prepared to forsake important life connections like career, family,
4. Brothers who understood loyalty, collaboration, and partnership.
5. Fishermen who worked, took risk, experienced danger, and trusted.
They didn't ask for job descriptions, an overview of what was expected of them, or details about where they were going. There was a innocence about them, a belief that moved them to pursue what may have seemed unbelievable. They were ready to go anywhere with him.
Most of the pastors I have known are humble, obedient servants, thankful for the privilege of serving Christ and his church. But, of course, they are human through and through, and are therefore subject to human emotions and the limits of having the treasure of his calling in clay pots. As a result, they are subject to frustration, discouragement, depression, stress, worry, pride, and the loneliness that seems to be so characteristic of pastoral isolation. Even though many common traits provide linkage within this collective, there is also a private side that makes ministry to them more challenging. And, there's this new diversity that defies the common links---ministry styles, geographical locations, organizational differences, appearance, worship preferences, education, theological positions, missiology, experience, church size, tradition, and dozens of other bullet lists, cowboy church to stained glass windows.
This is all to say that genuine care for pastors and ministers must be more than the application of dated models that cannot resonate with the demands of ministry in these very complicated and differentiated times. Old systems were effective when we didn't have to ask for the real pastor to stand up because they were all so similar. That's no longer the norm. Today, there must be loving, caring personal counsel catered to the diverse individuals who stand when the questions are asked. The individual, personal counsel of a trusted friend fits all the various sizes.
Paul's letters to Timothy have provided great influence in shaping my attempts to encourage and bless colleagues. Distance prevented him from being up close and personal with Timothy. But, his letters are intimate and his advice aimed specifically at Timothy and his mission. Paul wrote---
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I
remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears,
I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith,
a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and
now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into
flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God
gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1: 3-7, ESV
It's an example of the kind of support we can provide to those spiritual leaders who stand up and are occasionally knocked down.