I was 27 years old when I accepted what is commonly referred to as “the call to preach.” 25 years have passed now. And what have I learned in those 25 years? I’ve learned what I didn’t know.
What I didn’t know was that God’s call to preach would be housed inside His call to pastor. Preaching and pastoring, of course, are not the same thing. When you accept God’s call to preach, you envision yourself standing before congregations, open Bible in front of you on the pulpit, sharing the message that God has given you for the hour. Admittedly, that’s lofty mental imagery. What you don’t envision is all the messy stuff that comes with pastoring.
Preaching requires studying your Bible. Pastoring requires studying your church members. Preaching means spending time with God in prayer. Pastoring means spending time with your church members. Preaching locates you in a pulpit. Pastoring locates you in hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes. Preaching involves the question, “Is this the message that God wants me to preach?” Pastoring involves the question, “How can I get more people to attend church?” Preaching incorporates effective introductions, illustrations, and conclusions. Pastoring incorporates effective leadership, motivation, and results.
When you accept God’s call to preach, you don’t understand about contentious business meetings. You don’t take into account church budgets, committee meetings, and problem people. You don’t realize that “stepping on toes” with a sermon will usually be followed by mending a broken relationship with an in-home “let’s make up” visit. You assume that all your church members have the same innocent motivation and deep commitment to Jesus that you have. Then you come to the wildly disappointing realization that they don’t.
According to the gospels, Jesus spent a lot of His time preaching. According to those same gospels, however, He spent every bit as much of His time, if not more, ministering. He didn’t isolate Himself in some ivory tower, only coming down periodically to preach a powerful sermon. Instead, He moved in and out among the common folk of the land, visiting them in their cities, towns, and villages. He held one-on-one healing sessions with sick individuals. He touched lepers that no one else would even approach. He cast demons out of actual human beings who had actual names. He showed love to a land full of people who weren’t getting it from the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes, the priests, the tax collectors, or the merchants.
Oh, and did I mention how Jesus’ loving ministry ended? He got nailed to a cross. That, you see, is how this world treats God’s servants, and anyone who is feeling “the call to preach” should be made aware of this. It’s not all nice suits, expensive cars, big salaries, and congregations who can’t wait to hear and apply what you have to say. At least that’s not been my experience. Instead it’s trying to minister to needy people who oftentimes don’t understand their need and other times don’t appreciate your help even if they do understand their need. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule, no doubt about that. The exceptions, however, simply prove the truth of the rule. And, as naive as I was back then, is something else that I didn’t know 25 years ago.