Pastoring Is Always Personal: Is This Good News or Bad News?

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Editor's Note: This is the eighth installment of Dr. Roberts' "Master Class for Pastors." The first parts are the Introduction, "Who Are Your Partners?" "The Impact of Thanksgiving," "How Do You Talk About Your Church?" "Understanding Your Cultural Context," "Nine Stereotypes for Pastors," and "Pastoring is Always Personal."

My last installment in this "Master Class for Pastors" focused on 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8: "But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." I showed how this understanding of Christian ministry would have been scandalous to Paul's contemporaries, the Hellenistic popular philosophers. Whereas they saw emotional distance as a requirement for their effectiveness, Paul and his co-workers understood that Christian pastoring is always personal. The Gospel itself compels pastors to treat those under their care as a nursing mother treats her baby, sharing not only the Gospel, but also their own lives. We might truly say that pastoring should always be not just personal, but deeply personal.

So, how are we to respond to this truth about pastoral ministry? For those of us who are pastors, is this good news? Or is it bad news? Or is it some combination of the two? As you might guess, I'm going to cast my vote for "some combination." Please allow me to explain.

How you first respond to the personal reality of pastoring has much to do with your personality. If you're an outgoing person, a genuine extrovert, someone who is energized by interacting others, then you probably receive this as good news. It comes naturally to you to share your life with others and you're just fine doing this as a pastor. Bring it on!

If, however, you're like me, a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, if you're the sort of person who has to gird up your loins when entering a room full of your congregants, then you're apt to respond more negatively to the notion that pastoral ministry involves sharing, not only the gospel of God, but also your own self.

Yet, if we think carefully about what Paul & Co. are saying here, even introverts needn't be distressed. Nothing in 1 Thessalonians 2 points to gregarious backslapping and spirited small talk as essential to pastoral work. For certain, that's not the sense of a mother nursing her children. This image suggests a deep, quiet, intimate sharing of life, something that introverts can do. In fact, some introverts might even be better at this than extroverts who prefer the safety of large group fellowship. (For more on introverts and Christian ministry, see the excellent book by Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church.)

Yet, whether you're extroverted or introverted, I would suggest that the deeply personal nature of pastoring is good news. I've been a pastor now for over twenty years. Some of my greatest joys in ministry have come in the context of deep relationships, where I have had the privilege of caring for people in times of crisis and celebration, not to mention in the "ordinary" life of consistent discipleship.

I think, for example, of a man I'll call "Peter." He was a member of my church in Irvine. During my sixteen years as his pastor, I walked with Peter through the trauma of his teenagers' rebellion and his wife's leaving him. I wept with him and prayed with him many times. Peter and I also were able to share in different sorts of ministry together. We often talked about Scripture and its meaning. Peter was an avid student of God's Word. At one point, he was instrumental in helping me through one of the hardest periods of my ministry. Later, I had the supreme joy of officiating at Peter's wedding, as the healing grace of God was so real we could almost touch it. As I think about my tenure at Irvine, I treasure the opportunity I had to care for Peter in a deeply personal way and to share with him not just the Gospel, but also my own life.