Closing The Pastoral Gap
By Jon Sovocool, Copyright 2018
Ministry leaders are particularly vulnerable to feeling compelled to present a sparkling “public ministry persona.” It’s not easy to admit that the things we promote (desiring God, pursuing godliness, loving others, etc.) are sometimes the very things with which we struggle. If Papa John ate and enjoyed another brand of pizza would he own up to it? Do we expect financial advisors to disclose previous investment mistakes? Probably not.
As ministry leaders we feel the crushing weight of expectations:
“I can’t let people know that I’m not living out what I preach. I’m not allowed to be a regular person with flaws.”
I recently read Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. In this blog entry I want to focus on a particular theme to which Tripp devotes an entire chapter: The “separation” between a ministry leader’s public persona and who they really are behind the scenes.
My personal gap between public and private worlds manifests itself in all sorts of ways. As a student I refused to raise my hand in class for fear that I would utter something inarticulate or foolish. In my current stage of life I’m more likely to speak up—particularly if I think it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about.
The gap between public persona and reality exists for each of us. To some degree this separation will remain with everyone until Christ’s return.
But don’t we also promote the good news that our brokenness is dealt with in the person and work of Jesus? If we take the terrifying risk of uncovering the hypocrisy of what we teach and what we do, are we revealed to be frauds? Or are we reminding people we are broken, human, that we stumble, and that we, too, require mercy and grace? The gospel welcomes us out of hiding and empowers us to live with transparency and humility.
So, how can we close this gap between what we teach and how we live? Here are five commitments Tripp exhorts each pastor to pledge to:
1) REQUIRE YOURSELF TO SIT UNDER YOUR OWN TEACHING AND PREACHING
Our time in God’s Word, even if it’s in preparation for teaching or preaching, must include reflection and personal application. What does this Scripture reveal about my heart? How can I apply it to my daily life? Is this passage calling me to confess or repent of a sin in my life? As you sit with the Word, create space to revel and marinate in the gospel. Calvin reminds us: “[The gospel] cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.”
2) CONFESS PUBLICLY TO YOUR OWN STRUGGLE
Tripp is not recommending you chronicle your every sin each Sunday to the congregation. It’s more about ensuring people know you walk with a limp. Do you remind them you are not perfect, that you haven’t arrived, and that your faith journey can be a struggle for you? Many congregants view their pastor and ministry leaders as superheroes. Do you do anything to disabuse them of this notion, that you too are human and battle sin?
3) PLACE YOURSELF UNDER WISE AND BIBLICAL COUNSEL
Pastors need to be pastored. They, like everybody, require encouragement, a safe place to confess and repent, someone to speak hard truth into their life. Tripp notes: “I need to be pastored today as much as I did years ago when I began to realize that, as a pastor, I had not been called or hardwired to go it on my own” (211). Sitting with wise, more experienced counselors than I has afforded me the opportunity to a) avoid missteps, b) receive support when I was growing weary of supporting many others, c) grow spiritually and d) mature in my ability to care for others.
4) BE APPROACHABLE TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Proactively invite members of your family to identify areas of hypocrisy and spiritual malaise. Ask them if there are ways in which you have mistreated them. Do you need to confess any wrongs or seek their forgiveness? Continually ask your spouse and/or children to pray for you. No one has a clearer view of your true self than your family. Are you taking advantage of their insight into your life?
5) BUILD A HUMBLY CANDID LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY
When a church leadership group is not characterized by deep, strong relationships they miss out on an enriching, reciprocating ministry community. Does your eldership, deaconate, etc. have a time for confession and prayer? If your leadership group is lacking cohesion and transparency (or even if it isn’t) go on a leadership retreat to shore up relationships. ServingLeaders provides inexpensive leadership retreats and workshops on a variety of topics that can help you build community and exercise wisdom as you lead your congregation or organization.
Closing the pastoral gap oftentimes feels risky and overwhelming. We’re here to help:
Process issues with which you struggle with a counselor. Take your family or ministry team on a retreat. Consider attending ServingLeaders’ Ministry Leader Gatherings--they are designed to connect, encourage, and equip ministry leaders through training, fellowship and prayer.