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“The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol—a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. . . . Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives we more commonly pursue careers” ~ Eugene Peterson[1]


I have to be honest. I don’t care much for books on leadership. And more to the point, I don’t care much for reading books on church leadership. I find many of them boring, uninteresting, repetitive, and unedifying—“banal,” to use Peterson’s language above.  And I tend to agree with him: I have no interest in “running” a church. As I understand it, ministry is a theological vocation. Pastors are called to “shepherd” the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1). This shepherding involves feeding the flock (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2), praying for the flock (Acts 6:4) and caring for the flock (Acts 20:28). In addition, the pastor models a life of godliness for the believers under his care (1 Tim. 4:12).

Obviously, however, leadership is part of the pastoral task. Whether we call it “vision casting” or not is irrelevant. All pastors put forth a vision for ministry. We implement some plan for evangelism, outreach, discipleship, and growth in our respective churches. In this sense, we’re all “vision casters.”

But I’m not writing about “vision casting.” Rather, I want to ask a question: What kind of leadership qualities should those of us who have no interest in “running a church” cultivate? Here are a few that come to mind:

First, we must cultivate our love for the Lord. “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness,” Paul instructed his young protégé, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7). These inspired words from the apostle challenge us pastors to bend our life toward specific practices: Commit yourself to a life of prayer and Scripture reading (Matt. 6:5-15; Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1). Spend time in worship: Sing, journal, and reflect. Read other edifying Christian books. Get in a mentoring relationship with an older, more mature pastor. All this will increase your love and affection for God. Through it all, continually ask God to occupy the throne of your heart and reign supreme.[2]

Secondly, we must cultivate humility. We know humility when we see but we struggle to define it. Author Michael Casey captures its essence, however, when he says that a humble person has “overcome the tendency to regard others as competitors or rivals.”[3] Pastors should not have egos. Deep in their souls pastors must know they are not in competition with others.

Specifically, pastors must cultivate humility in order to respond well to criticism. Dealing with difficult people is the most challenging aspect of ministry. And the majority of pastors insist that it damages their morale more than anything else.[4] As heart-wrenching as it is, we must allow these adversities to throw us on the Rock of Ages, pour out our hearts to him (Ps. 62:8), and trust that he will use these moments to conform us into the image of Christ. In short, these are opportunities to practice what we preach. As two well-seasoned pastors put it, “God has used many difficult churches in the lives of pastors to teach them how to be crucified with Christ and to stay on the cross like Jesus did.”[5] So, dear pastor, get on the cross and stay there. View your life and ministry through the lens of Christ rather than through the lens of your desire for comfort and ease.[6] God never promised that ministry would be easy or that everyone would like you. Go read Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Acts of the Apostles.

Thirdly, we must commit ourselves to a life of prayer. I’ve never met a pastor (or a Christian for that matter) who was satisfied with his prayer life. Nevertheless, we must strive for consistency in this area. Prayer is not incidental but fundamental to our vocation. If we’re to be “lost in wonder, love, and praise” (Charles Wesley), we must make space in our hearts and lives for God—uninterrupted time to bask in his goodness. So far as I know, prayer is the only activity that fosters “the strong, lively actings of love to Christ in the soul, so as to swallow up all carnal affections and desires”[7] so that we can pursue him with intensity and serve him with reckless abandon.

Fourthly, we must be broken before God. The sweet Psalmist of Israel cried out, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). But perhaps you want a definition of brokenness. The best I’ve read comes from Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book Brokenness: The Heart God Revives. She writes, “Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will—the absolute surrender of my soul to the will of God. It is saying, ‘Yes, Lord!’—no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness—simply submitting myself to his direction and will in my life.”[8] Simply put, a pastor must be willing to do what God calls him to do, say what God calls him to say, go where God calls him to go. In the deepest recesses of his soul a pastor must say with Paul, “I am not my own,” and “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Gal. 2:20). Brokenness enfleshes a life of complete devotion to God, a life of loyalty to our great King.

Fifthly, we must value faithfulness to God’s call. In an era of celebrity pastors, sold out Christian conferences, best-selling books, a plethora of podcasts—yea, the Evangelical Industrial Complex—it’s hard to be a pastor. In fact, two well-known, well-traveled, sought-after evangelical leaders, have told me personally that America is the most difficult place to be a pastor. Pastors face pressure to perform, grow their churches, and “build their brand.” With these kinds of demands, it’s no wonder pastoral tenure is so short and ministry burnout is so common.

Pastors need to return to their humanity, slow down, calm down, and stop running. Instead, they need to come back to their first love—Jesus of Nazareth, their crucified and risen King—the one who “hath no form or comeliness” (Isa. 53:2 KJV) that we should desire him, but who sovereignly opened our eyes to embrace him (2 Cor. 4:6). Yes, to this one come again and bend your knee that he might lift you to the heights of praise. Come to the banqueting table of his grace and feast to your soul’s delight.

“‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’ So I did sit and eat.”[9]

As Robert Murray M’Cheyne said to Andrew Bonar before he preached, “Speak to your people as on the brink of eternity.”[10] If we do that, we’ll always live and serve with the requisite gravity our calling demands.


[1] Under the Predictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 5.

[2] Language borrowed from Arthur Bennett, ed. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 84.

[3] Michael Casey, A Guide to Living in the Truth: Saint Benedict’s Teaching on Humility (Ligouri, MO: Ligouri/Triumph, 2001), 1.

[4] Paul F. M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 245.

[5] Mac Brunson and James W. Bryant, The New Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 68.

[6] Two articles that have helped me understand this are: Scott Hafemann, “A Call to Pastoral Suffering: The Need for Recovering Paul’s Model of Ministry in 2 Corinthians,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4:2 (2000): 22-36; and William R. Edwards, “Participants in What We Proclaim: Recovering Paul’s Narrative of Pastoral Ministry,” Themelios 39:3 (2014): 455-469.

[7] Jonathan Edwards, “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, eds. W. K. Kimnach, K. P. Minkema, and Douglas A. Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 158-159.

[8] Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Brokenness: The Heart God Revives (Chicago: Moody, 2005), 51.

[9] George Herbert, “Love,” in Poems That Live Forever, ed. Hazel Fellemen (New York: Doubleday, 1965), 115.

[10] Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1844; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 87.