Pastoral ministry involves a dizzying variety of tasks and activities. Some days I go from counseling someone in a difficult personal crisis to untangling some issue in the church’s financial management and bookkeeping, from researching the best interpretation of the Greek of some passage in the New Testament to meeting with a repair person about why the emergency lights in the church building aren’t working, from teaching a group of children about the meaning of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to preparing an agenda for a board meeting, from drafting a church building use policy to comforting a widow who has just lost her husband of sixty years, from trying to listen calmly to a church member who is very, very angry with me to preaching a biblically sound sermon that is also interesting and engaging. And I could go on and on.
There are other lines of work that require a diverse array of skills and abilities, but I am inclined to believe that pastoring churches is right up near the top of jobs that requires the most varied and unrelated set of skills. And of course, no pastor is actually good at all the different kinds of things that he or she has to do in order to do the job. Each pastor has a certain set of skills, gifts, and abilities. Each pastor is good at some of the things required by the job, and each pastor is not very good at other things require of them.
When I began my work as a young pastor nearly forty years ago, I expected myself to be good at everything required of pastoral ministry. I, like most young pastors, struggled with feelings of shame and inadequacy when I discovered that, although I could do many things pretty well, there were also many parts of the pastoral work that I simply wasn’t very good at. In pastoral ministry, it is easy to feel like a failure just because you aren’t good at everything.
Pastors who are able to survive long in the work have to make peace with the fact that no one is good at every possible task and function that may arise. In fact, the Holy Spirit equips each person he calls to pastoral ministry with a distinctive set of skills, gifts, personality traits, personal passions, and life experiences that make that person into the pastor God intents them to be.
At the same time, each church is distinctive also. And each distinctive church passes through changing seasons of ministry and mission. The Holy Spirit matches churches and pastors for particular times and seasons of ministry. When churches and pastors are listening for God’s leading and faithfully following his Spirit, a beautiful blending of pastor and church is created. A pastor with his or her particular skills, gifts, and personality joins with a church in its particular ministry situation, and through the working of God’s Spirit, they become a useful instrument for a particular season of ministry and mission in their specific time and place.
Serving God faithfully always involves prayerfully listening to God and obediently following his lead.
But those seasons of ministry and mission change, and so at some point the pairing of pastor and church needs to change also. New seasons of ministry and mission in a church’s life call for a pastor with a different set of skills, gifts, and personality. That need for change doesn’t mean that something is wrong. It means that growth and development is happening.
I am persuaded that my current congregation is positioned to begin a new season in its ministry and mission. As I envision that new season beginning to develop, it seems to me that it will require a pastor with as different set of skills and gifts than the ones I possess. We’ve done some good work together over the past eight years. That congregation and its next pastor can build on that foundation.
Managing the day-to-day life of a congregation of God’s people, as I described above, demands a lot of attention and pulls a pastor’s energies in a lot of different directions. In the next season of my ministry, I sense God calling me to work that is hard to do while also pastoring a congregation. There are some things God is calling me to write. Also, I want to give more time to my Bible study videos and my Bible teaching podcast. I’m able to dabble in that while pastoring, but I can’t give it the focused energy that it needs. This is the time, I believe, for me to give myself more fully to that work.
Serving God faithfully always involves prayerfully listening to God and obediently following his lead. It is my hope and trust that my decision to retire is based on that kind of listening. I am convinced that God is preparing a rich, fruitful future for both my current church and me, especially as we listen carefully to him and follow faithfully as he leads us forward.
(c) 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.