A Lesson for the Young and Aspiring

Let’s be honest. Much too often “making things happen” is a fruit of nascent pride. The proud in spirit feel they must force a quick fix when faced with prolonged circumstantial ambiguity. They are compulsive and cannot trust God with what they do not understand about His timing. Too self-interested to wait, they attempt to supplant His unhurried work. However, God honors those who wait patiently upon Him. Humility accompanies the learning of this lesson. Ultimately, a pastor does not control his ministry circumstances. And our best efforts to eliminate their ambiguity may well make things worse.

Talking with a fellow pastor I know and trust, I recently asked a question. “What’s one quality you believe is indispensable for an effective pastor?” After a moment’s thought, the answer came: patience.

If you aspire to pastoral ministry, you likely envision yourself preaching the Word and rightly administering the sacraments. Perhaps you also envision counseling sessions, praying with those who hurt, and leading the ministries of the church. All good things, no doubt. But have you taken time to consider the kind of patience these things actually require? Have you envisioned yourself learning the hard lesson of being patient and moving slowly? If you would rather not, then one of two things will eventually happen after you enter ministry: you will be crushed or you will change.

When I was in my twenties and aspiring to the pastorate, I gave little to no serious consideration to my need for patience. And on certain days, I find that I can still be this way. Pastors, like most people, struggle with impatience concerning life’s circumstantial ambiguities, those unresolved things we are chagrined to live with. Ministry is so filled with such ambiguities that a pastor must learn what do to with them. As much as I may not like it, pastoring is slow, steady work. It is “tortoise work,” not “hare work.”

Of course, a temptation every pastor faces is that of “making things happen.” According to Zack Eswine, our tendency is to do “large things in famous ways as fast and as efficiently as [we] can.” I’ve found that this very thing is widely incentivized, often marketed to me as the model of ministry success. After all, pastors who are thought to “make stuff happen” are the ones who get book deals and amass high follower counts on social media. Is this the kind of pastor I must be? Experience enough ministry setbacks, though, and that question answers itself. It doesn’t take long for the hoped-for glitz and glamor of pastoring to fade. And you’re left with the reality that much of your pastoral success is measured by something you didn’t expect: capacity for patience amidst the crises, criticisms, controversies, and conflicts that beset congregational life.

As a young man, aspiring to the noble task of pastoring, do you recognize your need to learn patience? Do you see in yourself a tendency to idolize immediacy?

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