The Sacred Vocation of Pastor

The writer declares that pastors are not created by seminaries, but God makes

pastors and seminaries can only train those who have been called by God.


        I just finished reading the reflective autobiography of Eugene Peterson, the

pastor who authored the Message version of the Bible in contemporary

American English. The book titled The Pastor: A Memoir, is Peterson's

description of his life along with reflections on that life as a shepherd of God's

people. As the son and grandson of early Indian Pentecostal pastors and as a

pastor/teacher, I was moved by this book as I realized once again the privilege I

have been given to live out this vocation.


        Born to a butcher father and Pentecostal preacher mother, Peterson was lured

away by God's call from a prestigious academic life as professor to become a

pastor of a local church. This journey of joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure

has been most rewarding to him. In his vivid description of that journey,

Peterson makes many vital observations that are very important for

contemporary pastors who are highly tempted to go for the glitter and glory of

unbiblical leadership models and professional performance.


        The current culture demands leaders who can "get things done" and "make

things happen." Bible Colleges and seminaries are guilty of buying into this idea

without critique. Christian media are also guilty as they promote performers

rather than true pastors. Certainly pastors must also be doers, but according to

Peterson, if pastoring is reduced to simply performance, we are losing the

essential element of being a pastor which is to watch over the souls of men and

women, to care for them and to pray without ceasing.


        Pastors are not created by seminaries; God makes pastors. Seminaries can

only train those who have been called by God. Not everyone attending seminary

should become pastors. Seminary gives tools; God gives the call. It is the call of

God that makes a pastor. We have some people now in pastoral positions

because they have certain skills, but no call and they wind up exercising their

real call to be merchants or entertainers and do those things from the pulpit in

the name of pastoring. They have made the congregation of the people of God

their "audience" and the ekklesia, the Church, the community of faith has

become their marketplace and platform.


        Personally, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with adapting useful

ideas about organization, leadership or communication for the sake of the

gospel. The problem is accepting them without biblical scrutiny and adopting

those that are contrary to the spirit of the word of God just because they "work."

I am not suggesting that we abandon all methodologies of ministry just because 

they are not directly mentioned in the Bible. What I am saying, as Peterson has

so eloquently done, is to go by the word of God. Peterson is right. Pastors are

not called to be bureaucrats. Their main job is not management. Primarily they

are shepherds who pay attention in the name of Jesus to people who live their

lives here and now.


        Churches are meant to grow naturally because they are living organisms. This

growth is supposed to happen through conversion of people as members of the

Body of Christ bear witness to the Truth that has transformed their lives.

Stealing sheep as the mode of church growth is not biblical. Churches are not

supposed to be in competition with one another fighting for a fair share of the

religious market.


        Peterson makes many interesting observations. Churches are not franchises, he

says. Pastors must preach the word that their people need to hear, not just

preach about the "furniture in heaven and the temperature in hell." Jesus Christ

and Him crucified should be our topic.


        Peterson is very hard on modern church growth movement. He may be

overstating the case, but his warning that there are three intoxicators that tempt

pastors - wine, women and crowd - is very interesting. He feels that "crowds are

a worse danger" because "size is the great de-personalizer." Peterson is calling

the church to return from the entertainment business back to the edification

work.


        Pastors should not be control freaks. They should not manipulate people. They

must care for the people and do all they can to create a "culture of hospitality" in

their churches. The church should be a place where relationships are primary, a

place of hospitality. Pastors must live with the awareness of their own mortality.

They die daily, but also live daily with the anticipation of the resurrection. "We

practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that

...are we able to practice resurrection," says Peterson.


        Reading Eugene Peterson's memoir brought back many memories of my own

parents and grandparents. They toiled in the hills and plains of South India,

finished their work and went home to be with Christ. Informed by the word of

God and nothing much more, they lived out their vocation of being shepherds to

people of modest means. They loved them and cared for them. They extended

their own lives unselfishly for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That model of

pastoral ministry scared me, but also drew my attention. God's call led me to it.

Having been a pastor and teacher, I now recognize more fully the importance of

what I saw as a child in my family of shepherds.