I recently lectured in a college classroom on the topic of sermon preparation. It was really a lecture on how to be a pastor. Preaching is part of what a pastor does, but it is not the primary responsibility of a pastor. The primary responsibility of a pastor is to seek God. Period.
Preaching a sermon on Sunday is not the most important thing a pastor does every week. Praying between Sundays is far more important. Praying is the most important thing a pastor ever does. Ever.
Here’s a question for pastors: Do you spend more time talking to the people you pastor about God, or talking to God about the people you pastor?
The people you pastor belong to God. Their formation is his primary concern and he is intimately acquainted with them in ways you cannot image. This means that the time you spend in God’s presence, discussing the people you pastor, is the single greatest investment of your time and energy as a pastor.
Pastors must learn how to pray for the people they pastor. This means learning how to sit with the Lord and listen to him. There are a number of seminary courses on how to sit with people and listen to them, but few courses, if any, are offered on how to sit with the Lord and listen to him in regard to the people. The result is pastors who don’t know how to pray. Likewise, there are numerous courses on sermon preparation, but very few courses, if any, on discernment. How can pastors effectively communicate God’s message to his people if they cannot discern what the people need and what God wants for them?
A monthly day of solitude should be a requirement for pastors. I’m talking about an extended time of being alone with God (at least 5-6 hours) for the sole purpose of being with him. This time should be spent in a way that looks very unproductive, maybe walking through the woods, throwing rocks in a lake, or sitting on a dock watching the ripples in the water. This is about being in the presence in the Lord. It’s about turning off the noise and learning to listen. As I learn to listen, I discover, first, that I am deeply loved by God. I don’t need to accomplish something spectacular to be loved by him—he simply loves me. Second, I discover just how much God loves and is concerned for the people I pastor. He sees their pain; he hears their cries; he knows their suffering; and he wants to come them in their places of brokenness. Pastors cannot possibly see, hear, and know all of the things that enslave the people in their private lives and emotions, but the Lord does. That is why it is crucial that pastors are attentive to the Lord in a posture of listening concern for the people of the church.
Yes, this sort of work is slow. It is unhurried work that takes a lot of time. This is why the first discovery made in solitude is so important—I don’t need to accomplish something spectacular to be loved by God. The simple fact that God loves me is one that should free pastors from the need to achieve.
The recovery of my own identity as one whom God loves will allow me to recover my pastoral identity as one who is attentive to God. The more attentive to God I am, the better pastor I will be.
The call to pastoral ministry is a call to be attentive to God. It is a call to pay attention to the voice of the Lord above all the other voices.
The more clearly God’s voice is heard, the more clear pastors will be as their own voices are heard bringing God’s words to the people they pastor.