One of the great temptations that I have had to face as a pastor is that of seeing my main role as one of fixing things. Structures, ministries, relationships, marriages, and people, just to name a few. And of course, that is also the temptation of many of those who come to the church seeking help. Many times, without explicitly saying it, or maybe even actually understanding it, people come looking for fixes. Usually quick ones. Of a difficult circumstance, a family conflict, a marriage in trouble, or a besetting sin they cannot seem to conquer.
Which is why I so resonated with a recent reflection from pastor Tim Challies. He draws a necessary distinction between fixing and ministering as the main role of the pastor. Please take a few moments to reflect on his Biblical proposal (in its entirety below) for the role of a pastor, and I believe you will find yourself encouraged.
May God bless the church’s pastors to minister this way, and the church’s people to expect it of them.
You don’t have to look far to find articles about how and why the pastor’s job is uniquely difficult. Having been a pastor for a number of years now (in both paid, full-time and unpaid, part-time capacities) I can attest there are ways in which it is unlike any other vocation. It really does come with unique challenges, though it certainly provides unique blessings as well. There is one realization about pastoring that came to me slowly but which finally arrived like a breath of fresh, cool air on a hot summer’s day. I found it freeing because it counters an expectation church members can have toward their pastors and, even more so, an expectation pastors can have toward themselves. Here is what I realized: The pastor’s job isn’t to fix things.
Many people first begin to attend church when they are hoping to find a solution to a troubling circumstance. They want to have an easy and joyful marriage instead of a difficult and grievous one. They want to have polite and obedient children instead of troublesome and disobedient ones. They want to overcome an addiction or beat a bad habit. Low points like these often provide fertile ground for the gospel and many people come to faith only after they have reached the end of their own strength, their own abilities. In this way church is the place they find meaning by finding Jesus Christ. But they enter the Christian life bearing so much pain and grief.
Likewise, many genuine believers first begin to attend new churches during troubled times. Perhaps conflict in a former congregation nudged them out or perhaps a great trauma was mishandled or overlooked, and their pain has led them to look for a place to heal. In this way church often serves as a kind of refuge in their times of trouble.
And then, of course, the mature and committed members of a local church encounter difficulties of their own and go through challenging experiences. Their children grow up and reject the faith, their friends turn on them, they experience the horror of abuse, those spouses they were sure were going to come to faith stop accompanying them to church. This life is full of sorrows for the godly and ungodly unlike.
All these people, and many more, turn to their pastors. They turn to their pastors for guidance, for counsel, for wisdom. And as often as not, even if they don’t state it explicitly, their great hope is that the pastor will be able to fix things. They hope he will be able to provide the key that will make the pain go away, that will ease the sorrow, that will restore the separation. And for his part, the pastor really hopes to be able to do all of this. He places the expectation on himself. He gauges his success by his ability to deliver the solution.
Yet the pastor’s role is not to fix, but to minister. It’s not to repair what has been broken, to restore what has been separated, to heal what has been wounded. Rather, the pastor’s job—and his great delight—is to minister. “To minister” is “to tend to” or “to provide.” A father who cuddles his hurting daughter is ministering comfort, a doctor who tends to a wound is ministering healing, and a pastor who carries out his calling well is ministering truth. His unique role is not to solve problems but to minister the Word to the people under his care. He ministers the Word because it has power, because it is communication from God. He ministers the Word because it is pure and good and true. He ministers the Word because it brings comfort, hope, and meaning even when there is no fix in sight.
This doesn’t mean the pastor cannot offer practical counsel. It doesn’t mean he can’t use his God-given wisdom to make suggestions or to take action. It doesn’t mean he can’t use the authority of his position to rebuke the disobedient or to call sinners to repentance. Yet through it all he needs to remember that success is not measured in fixing the issue but in ministering the truth. His foremost task is to lead people to the Word of God and to carefully, pastorally minister to them the words they need to hear in their highest highs or lowest lows.