Pastoral Perfection: Possible?

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Our demanding job receives pressure from outside–and within–to always hit the mark. Is it possible?

During 2012, I entered a planned sabbatical of six months, which our church grants each of our pastoral staff members every seventh year of ministry. Overextended, exhausted and shortchanging my wife and children, I placed myself under the tutelage of a variety of authors and mentors, many of whom focused on soul care, personal spiritual formation and the vocational call of the pastor. As a result of spending an extended period of time in such green pastures, completely disengaged from my work as pastor, I found myself (with the assistance of a wise counselor) on a journey to rediscover and reshape my soul, myself and my understanding of my vocation and calling. In the process, I was tasked with an assignment to reflect and write about (admittedly a flawed concept) the idea of being a perfect pastor. After presenting an initial concept to a community of readers, I received their feedback, revised my work and, with further feedback, revised my thoughts once again. Consequently, the following thoughts are some of the reflections and lessons I am learning, as well as a picture of the qualities of life and ministry I am seeking to cultivate as I emerge from this sabbatical season.

The pastor … is not hurried or driven by the tyranny of the urgent, but rather has established rhythms in his life of slowing down the pace enough to listen to what’s going on inside himself and what the Lord is saying in the midst of the activity. His pace is set by the Lord’s agenda for a work or family day, week or a season—and who knows this agenda because he has made room for God to speak slowly, softly and regularly through times of solitude and meditation on the Word of God. At the end of the day, he wishes to say that what God has assigned, he has faithfully completed.

When in a meeting or a counseling session, or when spending time with staff, he is attentive to the present. He is not rushed in conversation, thinking about what else must be done, but is relaxed and attentive to those with whom he is meeting. With one ear tuned into heaven and one on the work before him, he utilizes prayer as an internal conversation that gives shape to his words and actions. He is one who seeks to become quicker to listen to God and people and slower to speak.

He is one who, from genuine times of introspection and conversation with God and others, has the ability to journey with people—not for them but as a companion guiding others in a spiritual pilgrimage on which he himself is journeying. He encourages, exhorts and feeds others as he is able to from a full tank within.

When leading, he does so collaboratively, with conviction, courage and a willingness to take risks to advance the Gospel in fresh and creative ways.

He is a lover of the Word of God. Whether walking with people one on one or in the pulpit, he is able to open Scripture and make accessible for people the life-giving Word of Christ in ways that are practical and alive. His desired end is that Christians can walk in confidence, having heard the Lord speak to them, affirming within them a sense of dignity, purpose and His Presence in their homes, places of work and when at play.

The pastor is one who is learning the value and freedom of serving so as to please the Lord rather than men; he has seen too many times the cycle of seeking praise from anyone else inevitably fails to satisfy and is flawed from start to finish. Instead, he looks to the Lord, who, as Abba Father, promises to pour out His immeasurable love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Further, by seeking God as Abba Father, the pastor hears the Lord speaking and affirming his own identity as a man who is dearly loved despite—and in—his own shortcomings. This foundation of God’s acceptance is what enables him to face conflict, speak truth when truth needs to be spoken and bring the compassion and love of God into the many scenarios he faces.

In the end, the pastor is learning that if there is any perfection at all in being a pastor, it is in being perfectly himself, secure in Christ—true to the personality, physicality, gifts, limitations and life God has given him.  

Shawn is the lead Pastor at Rockyview Alliance Church, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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  • Ralph M. Rickenbach

    The biblical definition of perfect is mature. Thus, a pastor is mature and maturing even further. That includes all you said.

    I also believe that a pastor is to be complemented by the other gifts of the fivefold. He cannot and does not have to be everything for the people. The now word of God from the prophet, the vision and authority from the apostle, the anointing, teaching, and executing of evangelization by the evangelist, and the foundation in the word by the teacher accompany the care of the pastor.

    And a pastor knows that foremost he has to pray. Pray and intercede hours a day for his sheep. How else would he know the will of God for them. And from prayer and intimacy with God he can excel in his call from a pasture of rest.

    Investing this way into the people – complemented by the other gifts, from prayer and rest, being on a maturing process – people will catch on, come into their calling, and step up to the plate. Thus more shoulders will carry, and those shoulders are called and anointed to do so. Administrators administer, people visit each other, all o varying degrees flow in the Spirit.

    Thus the church becomes a training centre instead of a care center and hospital, and the pastor becomes one of the trainers instead of the end of all means.

    How do we get there? Look around – is there somebody that you can be accountable to? An apostle? Are there mature Christians? Are there young people that can be in a close process brought into maturity – make them sons.

    How did Jesus start this? Before calling his apostles, he spent a night in prayer.

  • Todd K. Lanting

    Thanks for your thoughts – they are all very helpful – but this doesn’t seem to me to apply to “pastor” any more (or less) than it does to any other Christian. But perhaps that’s a however unintentional important part of the point….Blessings!

  • Shawn Vickar

    Thanks for the kind words guys, Ralph – good thoughts – thanks for those! Todd – I’d agree – to some extent these really are descriptive of the Christian life – no matter what our daily work.