From time to time, it will be my pleasure to introduce you to some friends who have agreed to share their insights and perspective around the topics we deal with here. I hope you will offer them the same hospitality as guests that you have given to me, as I have invaded your cyber-space.
Doug Walker is pastor of Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, Michigan; and he is MY pastor and good friend. Doug has held pastoral roles in several churches in addition to Grace Chapel, and also is the current chairman of the Candidates Care committee of the Midwest District of the EPC; where he works closely with new pastoral candidates.
Finding Joy in Pastoral Work – By Doug Walker
When I was in seminary, I had a professor who would often tell his students, “If you can do anything else, do it. Pastoral ministry is the most difficult thing you’ll ever attempt.”
At the time I was working 30 hours a week at a software firm, taking 12 hours of classes in seminary, leading a small group and serving on the building committee at church, and trying to be a decent father and husband. I thought to myself, “There’s no way pastoral ministry could be harder than what I’m doing right now!”
Turns out, I was wrong. It is harder – by a longshot – but it’s not as intimidating as my professor made it sound either.
The truth is, there are scores of tough assignments in pastoral ministry: Navigating a complicated change in mission and vision, counseling a couple on the brink of divorce, dealing with a disagreeable leader – these all demand huge amounts of emotional energy, and require weeks, months or even years of slogging uphill. Yet somehow God gives me joy in all this toil.
Not happiness, but joy. You’ve likely heard the difference between the two, but it bears repeating. Happiness is dependent in large part upon your circumstances, while joy is based upon an internal reality. If you’re looking for joy in attendance figures, offerings, or a competent, friendly staff, then you’re chasing the wind. You’ve got to dig a lot deeper, and be willing to admit some all-too-human tendencies before you uncover true joy.
Here’s a few signposts I heed to help ensure joy and not just happiness in my pastoral work:
First, am I believing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Strange as it seems, it is possible to preach the gospel without actually experiencing it in your own life. If you’ve done it, then you know how empty and fraudulent you feel when you descend from the pulpit. The forgiveness, freedom, and everlasting life offered by Jesus has to be more than a message on Sunday; it has to get under your skin and penetrate your heart every minute of every day. I often tell my congregation that the mark of a Christian isn’t being a good person – it’s about constant repentance and trusting in Christ by faith. It’s no different for pastors.
Second, do I understand my role is that of a co-laborer? Contrary to popular belief, I don’t run the church. Which means the congregation and I need each other to carry out the mission God has given us. My role is that of teacher and shepherd, not president. In leadership terms, I am first among equals. Not only does this understanding cultivate joy in my work, it also reminds me there’s only one Messiah.
Finally, am I confident in my calling? It sounds cliché, but I know that this is what God made me for. I’ve tried other careers – other callings – and even though I experienced some success, I knew deep down they just weren’t for me. I was operating outside my sweet spot, and until I became a pastor, I never even knew what it felt like to experience joy in my work.
This list could certainly be more expansive, but it’s a start. You can’t eke out joy by trying harder or avoiding trouble; remember, it’s based on an internal reality. For the Christian Pastor, that reality is found in John 16 where Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”