Christian theology especially in the late 20th century variety emphasised the comprehensiveness of the Christian faith. The notion that Christianity offers a worldview embracing every area of life was never more explicitly affirmed or more elaborately detailed. Think for example of the idea of Christian pop music, Christian counselling, Christian debt management (such as CAP) and so on. Related to this is the claim that every calling is good and noble, that all work can be devoted to the service of Christ, that all Christians are called to seek first the kingdom of God.
This good and necessary emphasis has often been accompanied, however, by a denigration of the pastoral ministry: All Christians, it is said, have a “full-time” ministry, so the pastor has no higher a calling than any other Christian. But this does not follow. Though all callings can be equally devoted to Christ’s service, not all callings are equal. In Scripture, the pastoral office is specifically tasked with equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), with the ongoing teaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2) and with seeking the well-being of all God’s people (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Another way to put all this is to say that pastoral ministry is the broadest calling, a vocation to minister and to serve (cheerfully) men, women and children in every circumstance.
When sickness strikes, we call the doctor. When in legal trouble, we contact a lawyer. When made redundant, we sign up with an employment agency. When labour pains begin, we call a midwife or a doctor, and when we have breathed our last, the undertaker has his way. For each stage of life, each crises, we have our specialist.
The pastor however is no specialist. They are called to represent Christ and speak for and about Him in every kind of situation. When visiting the ill, when guiding the adulterer in the way of repentance, when seeking to encourage the entrepreneur whose business has folded, when rejoicing with new parents or mourning with those who grieve, the minster is tasked with presenting Christ for the aim of caring for, building up and strengthening God’s Church. Beside the doctor, beside the financial advisor, beside the care home assistant, stands the pastor. In the maternity ward, in the jail cell, in the home tense with marital strife, stands the pastor. At the baptism, the wedding service, the funeral, stand the pastor: a generalist in human crises, a generalist in moments of passage, a generalist particularly called to equip the whole body of Christ with the whole word of Christ.
There is one sense in which the pastor is a specialist. For every situation, they have essentially one word, the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among the sick, the pastor’s concern is not only for healing but to indicate how suffering can be transformed into joyful witness. Among the poor, the pastor’s concern is not just how to pay next month’s bills, but to consider how poverty may strengthen faith in the goodness of the heavenly Father. At the bedside of the dying, the pastor’s concern is not just to ease pain but to hold forth the promise of resurrection life. It is for this that we are to pray for our ministers namely, that they would faithfully proclaim the Word of Christ as they joyfully serve all people and so build up God’s Church.
Words for PCC away morning (with thanks to PL)