It’s my three year anniversary! Not long, I know, but that’s how long I’ve been pastor of Pontrhydyrun Baptist Church.
Even with my two years as an assistant pastor in ChristChurch Harpenden, that doesn’t give me a vast experience in pastoral ministry. I was learning lots before that time about what it means to be a pastor, both in the classroom at WEST and through practical experiences and training at Malpas Road Evangelical Church, Newport. Since beginning in pastoral ministry, there are lots of things I’ve learnt and lots of mistakes that have been made along the way, but I also know there’s still a whole heap of learning to do and mistakes that will be made, no doubt.
Every step an arrival
In his autobiographical book, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes it as ‘Every step an arrival’. In other words, each step along the way, you arrive at a new point of understanding, of wisdom and of experience. And yet, for every arrival, there is another step to be made in the journey of being a pastor. It’s a never ending process, but a process of continually arriving.
Comparatively, I have more years’ experience as a member of the congregation who isn’t a pastor. I grew up going along every week to Bethel Evangelical Church in Leicester, becoming a member as a teenager, and was very involved in all sorts of areas in the life of the church into my early adult life.
As a pastor, I explored my sense of special calling, of gifts, and of special training and experience before I was let loose on a congregation – and rightly so. And we always need to be reminded of the nature of our ministry, which many of us try to do by reading books, going to fraternals and attending conferences. But as a member, it was simply by virtue of being a Christian that I belong to the Church and therefore to a local church – and rightly so! Perhaps we don’t give enough thought to what it means to be a part of the congregation, particularly in relating to this man who will have spent some time preparing himself to relate to the congregation.
Messy church, messy ministry
In our church, we’ve recently finished a preaching series on 1 Corinthians 1-4 with the title, Messy Church: Messy Ministry. I think that sums it up fairly well! It often is a messy relationship that has to be navigated in church life between pastors and their congregations. The church in Corinth was particularly in error in the way it valued some ministers of the gospel over others and in how it viewed what that ministry ought to look like – they seemed to think that preaching ought to come with human wisdom and eloquence.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy has a lot to say about the church and its leaders because Timothy had been sent to Ephesus to give special oversight for a time. Paul tells him to let no-one despise his youth (4:12), how he should relate to different generations and genders (5:1-2) and how to handle accusations against elders (5:19). Another major theme is how false teachers should be dealt with (e.g. 1:3-7). Timothy is to warn sternly, with love, and this in spite of his tendency towards timidity (2 Tim. 1:7), all in order to protect his flock. Timothy is also reminded about how he is to behave and what job he is to fulfil in overseeing the church (4:12-16).
In other parts of the New Testament plenty more is said about this complex relationship between a church and its pastor. Hebrews 13:17 reminds the congregation to submit to its leaders making their work a joy, and reminds the leaders that they will have to give an account for their work. 1 Peter 5:1-4 is a wonderful reminder that pastors are but under-shepherds of the great shepherd himself.
Pastors and congregations
As you might have guessed, we’ve given much of this edition of the magazine to think about the relationship to pastors and congregations. From his experience, Andrew Davies delves further into the outworking of this relationship. Geoff Thomas, at the opposite end of the scale to me, has much to offer in his reflections of going into the ministry 50 years ago – and all that in the same church! Peter Milsom looks at the issues wrapped up in the humanness of pastors and handling their ability to fail. Mark Barnes highlights the team aspect to ministry – that no man should see himself or be seen as a one man band.
Being a pastor is a real joy, especially to a congregation that makes the work ‘a joy, not a burden’ (Heb. 13:17). But being a member of the congregation is a real joy too, especially when a pastor is being a shepherd who is willingly ‘watching over them… eager to serve… not lording it over [his congregation], but being examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:2-3).