Pastor as Patient Gardener: Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry

Many of the books written on pastoral leadership seem to be written to convince pastors to be more like entrepreneurs rather than shepherds. Vision and how to apply it or make it stick have dominated pastoral leadership books for the last few decades with tips and advice easily transferable from the business to the church world. We seem more concerned with numbers and bottom lines, however our tribe or denomination may measure it. Seeing the pastor as CEO has been good business for many mega churches and for many pastor’s book sales. But is it good for the pastor? Is it good for his people? Maybe we need to give up this idea of a pastor as entrepreneur. Pastoral and church health I believe depend upon doing exactly this.

Another view of the pastor for the more conservative of churches seems to want to paint pastors as warrior or generals who lead their people into battle against the culture or those who aren’t like them. Success is measured by the amount of fights one can get into and how one can knock down opponents. We can see the harm this can do for the soul of the pastor and the soul of the church. We love the fight for the truth more than we love the truth and the God behind the truth.

When we see ourselves as entrepreneurs then we see our churches more as a business and we want to measure everything right now with no patience for the long process of personal and church spiritual health.

When we see ourselves as knights or generals then we see our church as bastions of truth ready to take on the world. It is easy to lose love and compassion when everything is a war and everyone is an enemy.

Pastoral leadership is more than vision and it is more than fighting. I heard Rod Dreher say for the church and Christians to move forward we need as many gardeners as we do knights or warriors. I love that. Pastoral leadership is real, it is hard, it takes getting dirty and it takes time. Patience in my experience is the most needed fruit of the spirit in pastoral ministry and when we are focused solely on vision or on fighting patience takes a back seat. We must be patient.

We pastor a certain church in a certain context. We all have churches we admire in other places and many times we try as hard as we can to make our churches look like our dream church without putting in the work or having the patience of the pastors of said church. Our people won’t look like their people. Our church wont look like their church and this is a great thing. Our church is the church we are called to pastor. We are not called to make our church look like someone else’s church, we are called to help our church be the church God has called us to be. Sure, there are things all churches must be and do to be a biblical church, but the way these are lived out in our context will be different than another church in another context. We must be patient with our people, we must be patient with our church, and we must be patient with ourselves. We are gifted in a unique way, our people are gifted in a unique way, and our church is gifted in a unique way.

To be the church we are called to be, to use the gifts and faith God has given to our people in a God glorifying way pastors need to be more like gardeners. We need to be patient. Pastors must be willing to plant themselves in one context for an extended period of time to see real, biblical health and growth. Churches are not stepping-stones. Be willing to plant your life in a local context and to stay with patience. It takes time for a church to grow into the church it is called to be. Patience allows us to take set back and struggles and to stick with it because we know our church is not our own. God is working. I am reminded of Paul here. In 1 Corinthians we see Paul confront the church about their sin and wrong practices, but he begins with praising the work the Lord is doing in them. We must be quick to praise the good before we confront the bad. Patience helps us see where God is already working instead of just where we are failing or where we need to be. Be committed to your church. See where God is working. Discern where your people are gifted. Celebrate the grace of God in the life of your people and your church. Be patient with all.

Entrepreneurs and warriors are not patient. They want results right now. Gardeners are patient. They work hard tilling and preparing the soil. The get dirty and they take their time. They are patient in waiting for the results that are out of their hands. This is a beautiful picture of what it means to pastor a local church. Be patient. Pastor the church you have not the one you wish you had. Get your hands dirty, take your time, be patient, and trust God for the results.

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