My childhood pastor was an imperfect man. He liked a good theological scrap, and he was quick to condemn what he identified as compromise in others. He would have been completely unfamiliar with the idea of setting a vision for ministry, and I don’t think he ever worried about strategic planning. He served in only a couple of churches, and those churches never saw significant numerical growth. He experienced constant criticism from both inside and outside the church.
And he changed my life.
I learned the aorist tense in Greek from my pastor. One could argue that an eight-year-old has no business with Greek tenses, and that such knowledge has no place in the pulpit, and I might tend to agree. But I’m glad my pastor taught me. He showed me that he loved the Biblical text so much that he took pains to learn the original language and to pass on what he’d learned to us.
I knew he loved God, and he also loved us. When my family went through a crisis, I would have expected a lot of judgment. If he or anyone at the church judged us, I never heard about it. Instead, my pastor provided us with wise counsel and came alongside us to make sure we were okay.
One of my enduring memories of him is from the weekday nights that he would wear a faux military uniform for Sky Force, a Christian children’s ministry. I would be embarrassed to wear such a uniform myself, and I can only imagine he may have felt that way too. But I still remember him those nights, another weeknight with screaming, restless kids when I’m sure he would have rather been at home.
My childhood pastor was not the model of the successful pastor being praised today, but he was the pastor I needed, and I’m grateful for him and his life.
Rethinking Pastoral Models
Want to be a pastor today? You need a charismatic personality, people skills, and drive. You also need to be the right age. It doesn’t hurt for you to be good looking, a dominant leader, one who isn’t afraid to upset the right people, who isn’t afraid to innovate and make things happen.
I’ve spent some time wishing I was this kind of pastor, and I’ve also spent time feeling insecure that I’m not. Now I’m not so sure that these qualities were ever the point.
Do you want a model of a good pastor? Look for someone who loves the Lord, who loves people, who’s humble and ready to serve. These pastors are everywhere. Most of them go unnoticed because they’re not rockstars, but they’re exactly the pastors that we need.
The pastor who loves God, loves God’s Word, who’s given up trying to get attention, and who’s willing to get his hands dirty with the real lives of real people is exactly the kind of pastor that every church needs. I’ll take such a pastor over any a-list personality who lacks any of these traits.
My childhood pastor was an imperfect man, and he was just the pastor I needed, because the point was never his perfection but his love for God, his love for me, and his willingness to serve. May God raise up more pastors just like him.