Pastoral ministry is a strange animal. For many pastors, it’s good work—important work—but it’s easy to become discouraged. The burden seems too great and they’re ready to throw in the towel. Then there are pastors who seem to have it all together. They might’ve published a book or two that have gotten some attention, have a generous salary, research assistants, support staff and/or conference speaking gigs… and yet on the inside, they’re being crushed by the weight of their responsibilities and (real or perceived) fame.
Interestingly, whether they’re on one extreme or the other, many pastors share the same problem: they may be seeking their justification in something other the work of Christ.
“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one,” writes Jared C. Wilson in The Pastor’s Justification. “We’re a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles…denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something [all] have in common … a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel” (17).
It’s this “antidote” that The Pastor’s Justification is really all about, covered in two parts: “The Pastor’s Heart,” an exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-11, and “The Pastor’s Glory,” an examination of the five solas of the Reformation.
Solving pastoral problems starts with the pastor’s character
One thing should be abundantly clear reading this book: this isn’t another “how to be a better pastor” book. Wilson is far less concerned about techniques and best practices than he is about the heart of the pastor. And he wants pastors to recognize something critical they may too often forget and something rarely talked about in leadership conferences:
“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem” (29). When a pastor sees people as problems to be solved, or the congregation he’s leading as being less appealing than the one he imagines leading in his daydreams, or he’s slipped away from shepherding to domineering… the problem lies with the pastor’s heart, not with the people. Which is really just another way of saying it’s all about the pastor’s character.
This is the reason Wilson spends so much time on the pastor’s heart. If he just said, “Here’s how you deal with situation ABC,” it wouldn’t be even remotely helpful if the pastor’s a train wreck.
If we want our churches to be of one mind, to be of one heart, to assassinate their idols and feat on Christ, to be wise and winsome with the world they have forsaken, to be gentle of spirit but full of confidence and boldness, and to be blossoming with the fruit of the Spirit, we must lead the way.… one who talks the talk ought to walk the walk. Don’t lead your flock through domineering; lead by example. (48)
Be bold enough to be yourself
The problem, naturally, if you spend enough time in the Christian subculture, is you realize the example many are leading by isn’t one worth following. Interestingly, though, although there are some charlatans and wolves to be avoided, the biggest issue may well be pastors who are trying too hard to be something they’re not.
Whether it’s pastors in their mid-fifties getting tattoos and frosted tips, or rocking an untucked shirt and ripped jeans, the problem, Wilson says, isn’t one of a lack of relatability but a lack of maturity or humility. Humility isn’t about trying to be relevent but having “the boldness to be yourself” (75). He explains:
The pathologically immature pastor imagines himself really getting down to the level of the people he’s trying to reach; he thinks he’s really connecting with them. He thinks he’s being authentic, transparent, relevant. But that sort of self-consciousness is none of those things.… in a curious irony, when we are trying so hard to “keep it real,” we usually end up mired in pride, tempted to project an image or put on a persona that isn’t really us. (Because we fear the real us would not be as missionally effective.)
The problem with this is a persona only holds our attention for so long. It might draw us in for a little while, but before too long we see the real person come through, and it’s usually not pleasant.
For example: I know a man, a very nice guy, who kept insisting he was a good leader; he had the spiritual gift of leadership, he told me (usually a sign someone doesn’t have such a gift, by the way). His staff struggled with him, his plans fell apart, he grew increasingly distant and unrelatable. And yet he couldn’t see it. He thought he was leading, but he was really going for a walk by his lonesome.
He didn’t have the courage to be himself, to own his strengths and admit his weaknesses, and he paid for it in the end.
A book for pastors—but not just for pastors
Clearly, this is a book for pastors—so why should you read it if you’re not one? Well, chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a Christian; that means there’s also a 99.9 percent chance you’re part of a local church. It also means you’ve got a pastor. Reading this book will help you better understand your pastor and give him encouragement, especially if he’s the type who seems to be just barely making it through the day.
Just as importantly, though, even though the primary audience for this book is pastors, the heart issues pastors deal with are the same ones you and I do. We need the gospel applied to our own hearts and minds just as much as anyone in pastoral ministry. We need to see ourselves in light of it and to recognize that we are “as secure as Christ is.” And because of this, whether we’re pastors or laypeople, we can fulfill our calling “in this reality…until our hearts burst with joy.” (180). I can’t think of a better reason to read this book than that encouragement, can you?
Title: The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2013)