This fall I’m thinking a lot about the Book of Jonah and pastoral ministry. Jonah, because I’m currently leading a sermon series based on the OT book. Pastoral ministry, because after 8 years of ordained parish ministry, it’s time to review my pastoral identity. Happily, both topics come together in Eugene Peterson’s book, Under the Unpredictable Plant (Eerdmans, 1992). I first read this book as a seminarian, and it cast a helpful vision for me of pastoral ministry. I just read it as an ordained pastor, and it continues to speak into my life. Peterson is concerned about the tendency of many pastors to leave their posts when trouble or boredom comes, to seek out easier or more prestigious pastoral opportunities. Sort of like Jonah, who fled to Tarshish, as he didn’t like God’s assignment to proclaim His message in Nineveh. He encourages pastors to stay in their local churches and grow. In order to do that, pastors need to rediscover a more traditional pastoral calling–that of spiritual director. Yes, someone needs to direct the programs of the church, but that someone should probably not be the pastor, who is called to proclaim God’s Word accurately and help people grow spiritually. But in order to do this well, a pastor must spend considerable time in God’s Word and prayer. So, how is this to be done in a culture that expects the pastor to be busy all of the time? Through the traditional means of spiritual growth: the weekly worship service, praying the Psalms, and praying Simple Prayers through the day. This is the foundation. The soil of our faith. But sometimes the soil of our hearts needs to be worked-up, which is done by the practice of various spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Practices like spiritual reading, confession, Sabbath-keeping, retreats, etc. An effective model for spiritual formation, which I plan to practice. We’re not exactly sure what happens to Jonah. The story leaves us hanging. But I trust the Lord will use me as an imperfect local church pastor, like he used Jonah as an imperfect prophet. Peterson gets it right and helps me get it right as a pastor. I’m thankful for him. With his help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I hope to remain fruitful as a pastor for the long haul. To God be the glory!
Today, on my Pastoral Sabbath, I spent considerable time reflecting on, praying about and reading about preaching and prayer. I always review the sermon and worship service on Sunday night or Monday, but this was more of a self-examination. How am I doing as preacher and pray-er? I spent considerable time reflecting on these areas of ministry via the pastoral review that we conducted in the spring. And I thought it was time to “continue the conversation.” Happily I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. I was guided by the late John Stott, who was a renowned preacher. I’ve been reading his book, “Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today” (William B. Eerdmans, 1982), and have found it exceedingly helpful. Today Pastor John reminded me that as a pastor, my primary callings are to preach and teach God’s Word, and to pray (see 1 Timothy 2, 4 and Acts 6). This may seem obvious to you, but I needed to hear that. He also reminded me that preaching requires preparation–lots of it! So I was challenged to study God’s Word diligently, meditate on it, pray over it, and to write the sermon in good faith. So, based on this conversation with Pastor John, and guided, of course, by the Holy Spirit, I look forward to spending more time in God’s Word and prayer in the future, as I seek to become the best preacher and pray-er that I can be, so the gospel will be heard, so that people will grow spiritually, and so the church grows. To God be the glory!