There are a number of things I could list in a blog post with this title. I don’t want to suggest that the two requirements I’m about to mention are the <em>only</em> two requirements. Surely, there are many other things we can and should say about effective pastoral ministry. But in my experience, ministry won’t go well, and pastors won’t go far, without at least these two requirements:
We must like studying the Bible.
And we must like our people.
The word “like” may feel a bit squishy, but I use it intentionally. We all know that we should love the Word of God and love people. That’s a given. But if that’s all I said, we’d nod together in tedious agreement: “Yes, good reminder, Kevin. The Bible is important, and the church is important. We must be people of the book and shepherds after God’s own heart.”
True, true. But with “like” I’m trying to say something a little different than all that.
I mean we should enjoy learning, enjoy discovery, and (in places where literacy and resources are plentiful) enjoy reading books. Young men need to realize that preaching and teaching is not all pastors do in ministry, not by a long shot. But they also need to realize that with all the preaching and teaching they are going to do in a lifetime of ministry, they better like studying, or they won’t have anything true and interesting to say.
I’m sure there are terrible preachers who got A’s in school and amazing preachers who got C’s. The best graduate students don’t always make the best pastors. But over the long haul, the best preachers—the kind who faithfully feed the same flock Sunday after Sunday for decades—will be the best students of the Bible. You need more than a formal love for God’s Word. You need to really like staring at the Bible and reading about the Bible and seeing and sharing new things from the Bible.
By the same token, we must genuinely like the people with whom we serve and to whom we preach. Of course, we must love the congregation. But we ought to really like the congregation too. We should naturally smile when we see our people (most of our people anyway). We should enjoy hearing their stories. We should be happy to meet their children and parents and grandparents. When we think about the members in our church, we should have that undefinable and unmistakable feeling in our gut that says, “I like them.”
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to invite a number of pastor friends to come and guest preach in my church. Some of these friends are well known. I always get excited to have them in the pulpit, not because I get to show off my friend to the church, but because I get to show off the church to my friend. I want my pastor friends to meet that hard-working elder and that faithful homeschooling mom and that widow who always gives me a hug and that college student with the great questions and that little girl who draws funny pictures of me while I’m preaching.
I bet most of the pastors reading this blog like their studies. That’s wonderful. They should like their people too. People can tell if they are projects or platforms or nothing more than “ministry.” Of course, pastors won’t feel a special bond with everyone, and in bigger churches there will be people in our congregations we don’t know personally. But the norm should be that we look out at the people on Sunday and think, <em>I really like her and him and them. Everywhere I look there are people I’m glad to know and happy to be with.</em>
The people who do their jobs best usually like their jobs most. And we like following people who like what they do. I’ve often wondered if the missing ingredient in many churches is simply an awareness by the congregation that the pastor is really happy to be their pastor—happy to be in the Word each week and happy to be in their lives.
We can’t ignore the call to love. That’s all over the Bible. But we won’t get very far, and neither will our people, if we don’t show a little like too.