50 pastors on why they love pastoral ministry
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
~ Jesus of Nazareth
Pastoral ministry isn’t glamorous. It’s a unique and holy vocation; but it can be demanding, mundane, and difficult work. Pastoral ministry is obscure work; but it’s a sacred call and vocation that witnesses to the love and grace of God, and makes a real difference in people’s lives. It’s a life of feeding and leading God’s sheep; week after week, year after year, in every situation of life. Jesus comes to us and says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
As pastors, we are completely dependent on the grace and presence of God. Like all followers of Jesus, we only bear fruit as we depend on the Vine. But if we remain in him, and his presence fills our lives and ministries, then we bear much fruit.
Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “Pastors enter congregations vocationally in order to embrace the totality of human life in Jesus’ name. We are convinced there is no detail, however unpromising, in people’s lives in which Christ may not work his will. Pastors agree to stay with the people in their communities week in and week out, year in and year out, to proclaim and guide, encourage and instruct as God works his purposes (gloriously, it will eventually turn out) in the meandering and disturbingly inconstant lives of our congregations…
Most pastoral work takes place in obscurity: deciphering grace in the shadows, searching out meaning in a difficult text, blowing on the embers of a hard-used life. This is hard work and not conspicuously glamorous.
But in these everyday obscurities in which we do most of our work, if we stay with them long enough, we often have the sense of being genuinely needed. Even when unnoticed, which we often are, we are usually sure our presence makes a difference, sometimes a critical difference.” (Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, 86).
We often hear about the challenges of pastoral ministry. But there are also many things about ministry that pastors love. Pastors make a critical difference. When I read Eugene Peterson’s classic books on pastoral ministry, it’s clear to me that he’s passionate about the church and about ministry. He loves his pastoral vocation.
When I was a pastor I loved seeing people’s lives change when they meet Jesus and pursue discipleship. I loved being a part of people’s lives through the difficulties and the joys. I loved seeing broken relationships reconciled and restored. I loved seeing faith, hope, and love set people free from fear, bondage, addictions, and sin. I loved being surprised at how God is moving in the most unusual places and people. And I loved helping people discover and use their gifts and passions and creativity.
So, in January 2018 I asked pastors a simple question:
“If you’re a current or former pastor, what do you love most about pastoral ministry?”
More than 50 pastors responded. These are male and female pastors. They represent a wide range of church traditions, ages, cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities. Some are new to pastoral ministry and some have been pastors for decades.
In this post, I’ll start with a summary of the common themes that emerge when you ask pastors what they love about pastoral ministry. Then, in an Appendix, I’ll provide the direct quotes.
If you’re a current or former pastor and would like to add a reflection on what you love about pastoral ministry, please email me at Stirling Theological College at [email protected] and I’ll add your reflection to the quotes at the end of this blog. Please tell me what you love about pastoral ministry! I’d love to hear from you, and keep growing these reflections!More than 50 pastors share why they love pastoral ministry. Click To Tweet
What Do Pastors Love About Pastoral Ministry?
Here’s my summary of the reflections sent to me by more than 50 pastors. I hope this can be a resource for the new generation of pastors and an encouraging retrospective for older pastors.
What do pastors love about pastoral ministry?
- Seeing lives changed and transformed. Seeing God work in people’s lives, and marveling at his amazing grace. Seeing change, growth, and transformation, at so many different levels, and among so many people.
- Helping a community join in the mission of God in the world, and seeing that mission not only change neighborhoods, but also transform the church.
- Seeing people grow in discipleship and Christian maturity.
- Guiding people toward a deep love for God and passion for Jesus.
- Helping to humanize others and shift power dynamics. Teaching people to embrace and honor those who are marginalized and often forgotten in society (including undocumented immigrants, refugees, the poor, women and children, the mentally ill, and transient and homeless populations).
- Creating opportunities to learn, gather for table fellowship, and cultivate genuine relationship.
- Journeying with people as they move toward healing and wholeness.
- Helping people see the Imago Dei in self and others.
- Accompanying God and people in change, hopes, and mystery.
- Building bridges for people to get to know who Jesus really is; not just what they have heard or assumed he is or is on about.
- Doing life with people, most of whom you’d ordinarily have little to do with, and learning so much more of God’s kingdom together as a result.
- Being there when someone ‘gets’ something about Jesus for the first time which impacts their lives for good and sets them on a new path.
- Being given the privilege of access to people’s lives (in good and difficult times) and having the opportunity to help them grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus so that we are blessed by his friendship.
- Learning to walk with God in peace and humility, and learning to walk with people in love and hope.
- Learning more about God through his Word and Spirit, and then getting to share that with your congregation for their encouragement. Encountering something wonderful in the Scriptures and then sharing the discovery with others. Sometimes pressing others toward growth only to realize that we are the ones who need to grow and change.
- Experiencing the passages of life with people (births, marriages, baby dedications, funerals, and so on), and together finding God in those moments. Journeying with people through their celebrations, but also the painful experiences of life.
- Witnessing the light in a person’s eyes when they experience the freedom of Jesus Christ for the first time.
- Having the opportunity to intentionally and carefully shape a community of people into Christlikeness. The ‘nuts and bolts’ of ministry itself is rarely exciting, but keeping a grander destination in mind gives hope, energy, and joy.
- Seeing folk move beyond their usual securities (class, gender, race, profession, etc.) and become a new creation and community in Christ. Seeing people break down the walls that divide, and reach out beyond themselves to neighbors, other religious and ethnic groups, and so on, for the sake of the mission of God.
- Having freedom to choose how to spend your week. Being mostly free to use your time intentionally, reactionary, responsibly, wastefully, wisely, missionally. Being free to use time at the disposal of the Spirit, or at our own inclination (hopefully, over time, our inclination walks in step with the Spirit).
- Having the flexibility of working hours to build a string marriage and family.
- Giving your children the opportunity to watch you burn for something larger than yourself.
- Learning to pastor not only within a local church, but also within a city and neighborhood. Being stimulated—spiritually, missionally, and intellectually—and we seek to be a community that’s fully engaged in what God is doing in our city and neighborhood and society.
- Being in ministry with friends, and making lifelong friendships.
- Enjoying the privilege of reading the biblical and cultural texts in community, and together discerning what God is saying or showing us.
- Developing a ministry team and doing life and leadership together. Working and growing together. Building something eternal together.
- Casting vision for life-giving community and missional outreach. Leading a community of believers who desire to live out authentic Christianity.
- Seeing a diverse range of ages, cultures, and backgrounds learning to love each other as family and use their gifts to grow God’s church and follow God’s mission. The joy of simply doing life together!
- Identifying, developing, and releasing leaders, and seeing them thrive in ministry.
- Relying on God’s grace, power, strength, and wisdom as we are stretched way beyond our own capacity… and seeing him bring transformation to situations and people in our community that were written off as hopeless.
- Being involved in work that has eternal consequences.
- Having our lives interlaced with others in an amazing way… Being a spiritual leader in a vibrant, courageous, and redemptive community. Enjoying leading and serving such a community, but, more importantly, enjoying being part of it.
- Partnering with God in the transformation and multiplication of disciples.
- Having the privilege of better knowing our weaknesses and areas for growth, because there is nothing quite like the crucible of ministry to help us in that; the pleasure, pain and privilege of being a servant leader to the servants of the Servant of the King.
- Enjoying an intimate relationship with God as we walk with him and his people through life, and as we share together with God’s people in ministry and mission.
Appendix: Quotes By Pastors On What They Love About Pastoral Ministry
“Lives being changed and transformed. People knowing God more. And most of all, seeing God work in people’s lives, and marveling at his amazing grace.” Siufung Wu
“Loving God, loving people, changing lives, and helping people to know God.” Joseph Lal Hmangaih Puia
“Seeing God in lives.” Faye Lo
“1) Helping to humanize others and shift power dynamics. Teaching people to not take the one up position in regard to refugees, immigrants, mentally ill or a transient/homeless population, but creating opportunities to learn, gather for table fellowship and cultivate genuine relationship. It is hard to be afraid of or assume one’s superiority when you gather around table and hear stories of strength, hope, resilience from those who look differently, worship differently and who define resilience. 2) To see someone take a step toward wholeness (I have been sober one day, or 20 years, or “I decided to go to counseling after we talked.”) Helping people see the Imago Dei in self and others…yes, this.” Kimberly Peterson-Whetstone
“Accompanying God and people in change, hopes and mystery!” Johnny Douglas
“Building bridges for people to get to know who Jesus really is, not just what they have heard/assumed he is on about.” Nicole Regan
“Doing life with people, most of whom you’d ordinarily have little to do with, and learning so much more of God’s kingdom together as a result. Seeing and hearing of God’s transforming work in people’s lives by His grace. Being there when someone ‘gets’ something about Jesus for the first time which impacts their lives for good.” Chris Thornhill
“The privilege of access to people’s lives and the opportunity to help them grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus so that we are blessed by his friendship.” Conrad Hor-Kwong
“In pastoral ministry you are called to walk with God in peace and humility, and to walk with people in love and hope. You get to witness lives and community been transformed through the Gospel. You want to learn more about God through his Word and Spirit and you can share and encourage your congregation. Often you get to see and experience life and death with the people you are supporting with in walk with Jesus. In God’s grace, pray that I will continue to rejoice in them.” Kevin Jin
“The light in a person’s eyes when they experience the freedom of Christ for the first time.” Steven Clancy
“I love being invited into people’s lives, especially through the tough times. I have visited in people in hospital, and I know that what they say to me they aren’t even saying to their family yet. It is such a privilege.” Chris Hall
“The opportunity to intentionally and carefully shape a community of people into Christlikeness. The ‘nuts and bolts’ of ministry itself is rarely exciting but keeping a grander destination in mind gives me energy and joy.” Andrew Hamilton
“I’ve just finished up in pastoral ministry in a multicultural environment, after 12 years. I love seeing folk increasingly moving beyond their security in one ethnic group. And I love how much our Muslim neighbors became trusted conversation partners.” Mary Elizabeth Fisher
“The privilege of caring for a bunch of people.” David Pohlmann
“My retired verdict: Freedom. The week, aside from a few fixed points, is basically rearrangeable time. I can/could use it intentionally, reactionary, responsibly, wastefully. I can use it at the disposal of the Spirit, or at my own inclination (these may not be the same, nor are they necessarily opposed). And others are able to interact with me similarly – although they may have a few more constraints. The joy – freedom. As for my successful use of that, the Day will disclose it.” Ian Carmichael
“I love the flexibility of working hours. I have rarely missed a school assembly my kids have appeared in.” Wayne Field
“Sharing hope in a dark world – that’s what I love about pastoring.” Luke Merriman
“The challenge of it all…staying faithful (or barely hanging on) in my own walk with Jesus and then inviting others to join in the journey. Being there, really being there, at critical movements of growth, loss or heartache and becoming aware of God’s presence. Not trying to use words to “fix” things but being given the privilege of articulating the mystery. Encountering something wonderful in the Scriptures and then sharing the discovery with others. Sometimes pressing others to grow up only to realize that I am the one who needs to grow up. It’s not easy but it is incredibly fulfilling and always a challenge to stay on track.” Steve Wright
“I love being a part of people coming alive in faith. I love being with people in life transitions – marriages, deaths, new life, etc. I love the dynamics that come with pastoring in an amazing city. It’s stimulating spiritually and intellectually. I love being in ministry with friends. I know that’s not everyone’s situation, but it’s mine and is quite life giving. I love that my children are able to watch their dad burn for something larger than himself (while being careful not to burn out).” Matthew Watson
“Matthew Watson has said it well. One thing I’d also specifically mention is the privilege of reading the text in community and together discerning what God is saying or showing us. Good preaching is a part of this but there are also so many other elements that together bring hope, faith and love – good news. (I fear that some churches are losing this practice as they strive towards technical tactics in order to draw a crowd).” Andrew Menzies
“I really enjoyed developing a staff team around me – it was a pleasure to do life and leadership together. Working and growing together was a brilliant experience. Building something eternal together.” David Snell
“I loved being involved in baptisms, weddings and funerals. I loved being involved in the passages of life with people inside and outside the church. Plus, I loved team vision casting for missional outreach.” Ross Clifford
“Pastoral ministry imposes a sense of the spiritual import of the calendar. All the planning for such seasons is a good time for reflection and reorienting of myself. Of course, I could do this for myself, but the busyness of life intervenes. As a former pastor, I think the moments of joy for me as a pastor were baptisms, weddings, baby dedications. There is an incredible privilege of being there for people at key points of their lives. Even funerals. And it was often scary how much people would open their hearts and lives to you – a grave responsibility, and yet also an honour. There is an intensity to being a pastor – your life can have obvious meaning. I think I still have this through the ministry I do today as well, so I’m glad I didn’t take too large a step away that place, but instead I’m in a related ministry area. One other thing, is that I have said a few times that you can take the woman out of the pastorate, but you can’t take the pastor out of the woman. I still find that to be an orientation I have to life and this is a source of life for me.” Megan Powell du Toit
“Being part of the change God brings into people’s lives through all the seasons of life. And leading a community of believers who desire to live out authentic Christianity.” Rob Buckingham
“The privilege of being involved in peoples’ lives and of teaching the scriptures.” Marcus Reid
“The delight of seeing a diverse range of ages and backgrounds learning to love each other as family and use their gifts to grow God’s church. The wonder of seeing new life in Christ and lives transformed. The privilege of seeing people deepening their understanding of God’s word and their desire to live it day by day. The joy of simply doing life together!” Roger Green
“My job is to partner with God and others to make the world a better place. That’s pretty amazing! My job is to love and be loved. That’s pretty amazing! I’m invited to share profound moments with people. Leading Rites of Passage is always an honour. Giving and receiving hospitality is so enriching. Flexible and diverse working life is great. It’s an all of life job. I’m a pastor all the time; that feels very integrated to me.” Lyn Edge
“The transforming power of the grace of God. The long-term journey with people in the joys and sorrows of everyday life. The privilege of praying and sharing God’s Word for and with a community if people. To co-labor in the service of the Gospel with people of different gifts who embrace the mission of a local area. To be in a place long enough to walk through the births, the celebrations, the anniversaries, the baptisms, the weddings, the retirements and the deaths of people. What a privilege!” Dean Rerekura
“I love the privilege of journeying with people through some of the biggest moments of life – weddings, baby dedications, death, funerals, baptisms. These are some of the most significant ‘events’ or moments in a person’s life. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself in what I call ‘sacred moments’ where I think to myself ‘who am I that I should get to share in such a moment?’ What a privilege. Even journeying with people through some of their ‘dark nights of the soul’ – such as anxiety, depression, domestic violence … you know, hard times – as difficult as those times are – these are aspects of being a pastor that I love, because it is the gospel in action and it is a true, terrible privilege to get to pray and journey with people. I also love the privilege of preaching. To be able to bring the ministry of the word, and prayer is a real gift! There are aspects of pastoral ministry that are truly difficult and sometimes horrible. But there are so many things that are truly awesome. I wouldn’t want to do anything else!” Matt Lucas
“The connections with people based on the love of God. From each individual, to the congregation, to the whole community. Seeing change, growth, and transformation, at different levels. I find this fascinating, and an immense privilege.” Pablo Nunez
“I love seeing people step into life in relationship with Jesus and journey with him as he leads them to realize all the potential he has placed within them. I love developing leaders and seeing them thrive in ministry.” Adam Low
“I love the opportunities to rely on His grace, power, strength, and wisdom as I’m stretched way beyond my own capacity…and to see Him bring transformation to situations in our community that were written off as hopeless.” Eliot Vlatko
“I love being involved in creative work that has a change just about every day. Being involved in work that has eternal consequences. The privilege of being in people’s lives at their best and worst moments. It’s an incredible privilege and joy.” Mark Edwards
“Every time I sit down to write a sermon, I think “do I really get paid to do this?” I get to sit in a warm room (I live in Siberia, so warmth is important), drink coffee (also important) and spend a few hours just reading a text of Scripture and meditating on its meaning. I then read well-written books that also help me work out what it means. And then I walk through the neighbourhood and pray about how to share that with people, so their lives are impacted. And I get paid for it. Can you believe it?” Tim Kay
“I served for 39 years at the same church, the last 21 as senior pastor, and retired last July. Even though my successor and I are friends and he has officially invited my wife and I back, I know he and the church need sufficient time and space to make adjustments. But this has meant my not being part of a church in the pastoral role, and not having my life interlaced with others in the same way… [I’ve realized] how much I miss being part of a vibrant, courageous, and hilariously redemptive community. I definitely enjoyed leading it and serving it. But what I enjoyed most was being part of it.” Ken Fong
“Partnering with God in the transformation and multiplication of disciples. I love these people and am incredibly encouraged when I see the Kingdom come in their lives and within the community in which I serve.” Craig Corkill
“Thanks Graham for this invite. Too often we mention the challenges of ministry without noting is pleasures and privileges: the privilege of being part of a team of people seeking to build a community of faith that gives a sufficiently clear picture of Jesus so that people can come to transforming faith in him; the privilege of journeying with people through the painful and joyous nodal points of life; the privilege of grappling with God’s words and seeking to declare it clearly to others; the privilege of better knowing our weaknesses and areas for growth,, because there is nothing quite like the crucible of ministry to help us in that; the pleasure, pain and privilege of being a servant leader to the servants of the Servant of the King.” Vivian Grice
“I love to witness God’s power and love as it transforms people’s life. I love the special, intimate relationship with God I find as I walk with Him through ministry!” Ai Nohara Tetseo
“So much to say; so much has already been said above. I love the privilege of hearing people’s stories – the joy, the fear, the triumphs, and the pain – and being invited to walk with them through it all.” Josh Dowton
“I never get over the thrill of seeing a person’s life change in front of my eyes. Sometimes it is rapid but most often it occurs gradually week by week and the power of transformation through a relationship with Christ makes pastoring so rewarding!!” Karen Wilson
“So many positives about pastoral ministry. Weddings, funerals, baptisms, and dedications are all very special privileges. Preparing and preaching God’s Word. Shepherding people who God gives you a genuine affection for is a gift. Seeing faith stretch and grow. Being part of Christ’s mission to build his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I’ve always felt that the pastoral role is the very best expression of who I am. It fits like an old worn glove. To give my life to something that fits so snug is a tremendous blessing. I sense so much meaning in my work. You can’t put a price tag on that!” Joel Small
“I love to do exactly what I’m doing right now… in the Philippines with a group from my congregation as we witness the amazing work being done by local believers to empower children from the poorest communities to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty and into a new era of influence and leadership for the benefit of their country. I’ve been humbled and inspired.” Phil Blair
“Being in a rural church in England, the pastoral ministry is a blessing for many here. Everyone thinks they are Christians in the village. So, the pastor is also a community leader. So, the definition of the church itself is more than gathering on a Sunday in the building. Everyone in the village gets a chance to visit the church four times a year besides Christmas and Easter. We have many weddings, Christenings, and other activities that people come to the church. The real joy of doing this ministry is this: While a pastor faces challenges in bringing out any changes in the church, later people who oppose turn up to be volunteers and the programs become self-sustainable even without the presence of the pastor. In many rural setting, the community is happy to see the relevance of the church and the need to support it. While many do not go to church, when a family member is in the hospital they end up calling the rural pastor for a prayer and visit. After visits, some people come and say that they got better because of the prayer of the pastor. In a hard, secular society, such statements are really positive and make me very happy to hear that God is at work in this place. I have to humble myself in this rural context, and encourage people to share their faith stories to others. Rural pastoral ministry is a blessing. But it takes balanced, appreciative, and hard work to bring the church closer to communities and communities closer to God.” Joshva Raja John Christopher
Graham Joseph Hill
Graham Joseph Hill (PhD, Flinders University) is Interim Principal and Director of Research at Stirling Theological College (University of Divinity) in Melbourne, Australia. He has planted and pastored churches, and been in theological education for twenty years. Graham is the author or editor of 6 books including Global Church (IVP, 2016), Healing Our Broken Humanity, (IVP, 2018, with Grace Ji-Sun Kim), and Salt, Light and a City (Cascade, 2017). He also directs The Global Church Project.
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