But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
— Acts 6:4
My friend Ronnie Martin and I recently started a podcast for Christianity Today called The Art of Pastoring, and I’m particularly fond of this episode on The Pastor’s Study. If I may, I commend it to you, because I think it reflects a needed reminder for many in the church today.
Our modern contexts for ministry demand so much from a pastor in the way of strategy, administration, organization, and the like—and our ongoing Covid season is demanding even more—that it only exacerbates the sense among many ministers of estrangement from the fundamental stuff of shepherding. Our churches and our cultures expect pastors to be creative public speakers and entrepreneurial leaders, but the essence of pastoral ministry is simply this: prayer and ministry of the Word.
In his book Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson illustrated the tension this way: “A misnaming replaces ‘pastor’s study’ with ‘office,’ thereby further secularizing perceptions of pastoral work. How many pastors no longer come to their desks as places for learning but as operation centers for organizing projects? The change of vocabulary is not harmless. Words have ways of shaping us. If we walk into a room labeled ‘office’ often enough we end up doing office work. First we change the word, then the word changes us.”
I had an elder once challenge me about the same signage on my door. The placard I had inherited read “Office.” I took his advice and replaced it with an Amazon-ordered sign that read “Pastor’s Study.” I wanted to be reminded—and I wanted my people to be reminded—that they pay me, actually, to read, learn, contemplate, reflect, to be still, to be quiet, to be solitarily devotional, and above all to be prayerful.
This does not mean neglecting the pasture work that is also required of the pastorate. Peter exhorts elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among them,” by which I take him to mean that faithful pastors are actually active among their flocks. But I do think it means pushing against the insecurity about pastoral work not being “real work,” rejecting the insinuations (even if just assumed) that the pastor “only works one day a week.” They actually pay you, pastor, to read and pray. Assuming they do pay you, they pay you to pursue a Christward affection in personal study and devotion.
It’s the sweetest gig in the world, isn’t it? I tell my students, “Right now, you are paying us to study the Bible. But one day there will be a great reversal. We will soon enough pay you to study the Bible.” Won’t that be a glorious privilege?
Churchfolk, expect and encourage your leaders to tend to their intellectual and spiritual development. We want them to be brimming with Bible. It is for their and our good that they do. Pastoral ministry is more art than science, and as such, it requires deeply thinking and deeply formed people to carry it out. And deeply thinking and deeply formed people dive deep into ancient wisdom, push deep into intimate prayer, probe deep into their own souls, wage deep war with their sin. We want them not to become sick with hurry and drowning in the anxiety of productivity and efficiency. That only infects us with the same. We want them to stare out the window and think. That’s what we pay them for, and that’s what will pay off for us in the long run.