As I round the bend of life into my 50s, and as I see some of the highest of the high profile preachers step away from active ministry, I’ve been thinking:
Why should an individual enter pastoral ministry in the first place?
In processing that question, I've come up with several wrong answers and one I believe to be most on the mark. First, the wrong answers:
1. For personal validation. If you, like me, are on a relentless quest for the approval of parents, friends, colleagues and most especially parishioners, then please don't go into ministry. Christ nailed your approval into the cross, and if that's not enough, you're not ready for the parish.
2. For emotional healing. If you believe that by surrounding yourself with church people and ministry activity, you will heal wounds from your past, then please don't enter ministry. The parish is not a laboratory that cooks up the perfect concoction for your healing; in fact, many local churches do a pretty good job of tearing down whatever emotional health you had built up.
3. To make a name for yourself. I can honestly say that in 1986 when I most clearly "heard the call" the thought of making a name in ministry never occurred to me. There was no mega-church movement, no multi-site phenomenon, and relatively few celebrity pastors. My, how that landscape has changed, and notoriety has supplanted proclamation. If you want to “become known,” please don't go into the ministry because you'll likely get known for all the wrong reasons.
4. To build a platform. This is the first cousin of No. 3, above. If you want to build a platform so that your parish ministry can propel you into other, higher profile ministry — politics? publishing? speaker’s bureaus? — then please don't go into ministry. Local churches are starving for people who are entering ministry to love and lead people in the parish.
As for reasons to enter the ministry, I believe the healthiest one is to help others have done to them what was done to you.
See, the Gospel was done to me. When I am awake to the Holy Spirit, the Gospel continues to be done to me. It is the daily awareness of and celebration of the fact that I am, at the same time such a wreck that I can't save myself and such a treasure that God saved me.
That needs to be the primal instinct of a pastor's soul. I do best in ministry and in life when those are the first thoughts on my mind in the morning and the last at night. I am “being saved” as I Corinthians 1:18 says and that joyful awareness is to be the foundation of a call to ministry.
A wrecked treasure. Or a treasured wreck. Take your choice. But celebrate the truth, and enter into ministry.
Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C. This piece was published first on his blog.