In part one I contrasted pastoral ministry with every other "job"; in part two, I raised the stakes, framed the issue in more specifically Biblical terms, and heightened the tension. Here I mean to provide such answers as I have.
But first, a brief disclaimer. Both the first meta and the second contained some excellent responses. Read them! Here I aim to state the central issue, then focus on a couple of specific implications and applications. I will fight the temptation to write a dissertation.At the risk of incurring my own condemnation of sounding simplistic, the right pastoral frame of mind is found in 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 —
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.This is an orientation Paul shares with all Christians — but with the pastor, it relates more specifically to his life-work than (say) with the trucker or the five-star general.
First, note that Paul explicitly contrasts walking by faith with walking by sight. The essence of walking with God is in the realm of the unseen, not of the visible and tangible. It is the "assurance of things hoped for," and therefore not in present possession; it is "the conviction of things not seen," so not capable of quantification (Hebrews 11:1; cf. Romans 8:24). And remember that, to Paul, faith is not a happy, optimistic feeling he worked up. Rather, it is a wholehearted embrace of an explicit word from God (cf. Romans 1:16; 4:3; 10:17; Colossians 2:7; 2 Timothy 3:14-17).
So: be pleased if you see visible results — but also, be surprised, and don't get attached to them. What we deal with is far greater than what can be seen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Then note that Paul's overarching, all-controlling aim is to be pleasing to God. He does not aim at popularity, power, or prestige. Paul is radically God-centered in his life, and his ministry is an outflow of that orientation. In fact, pleasing God sometimes would require displeasing men (Galatians 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:12).
Finally, note that the final and ultimate reality standing over and against all is the judgment seat of Christ, which is where Paul's life and ministry will be finally assessed. Only then will Paul's life and ministry come to full review, and receive its final assessment; and the Assessor will be — not Paul, nor the church, nor the world, but — the Lord Jesus Christ.
Put it all together, and this is the picture with which we're left:
- One must aim above all to please God...
- ...which can only be done by responding to His Word in obedient faith...
- ...and which will produce a life and ministry that will only have its final assessment at the judgment seat of Christ.
Now, drawing to a close, I'll confess three things to you:
- This conclusion makes me very uncomfortable
- But I just have to live with it.
- And so do you — whichever side of the pulpit you occupy.
However, in the final analysis, I must ask two questions. They are not, "Do you like this?" and "Is this the majority opinion?" No, they are: (1) What does the Word say? and (2) What better system would you propose?
Should a man make full evaluation of his ministry by majority-vote? Should he not make Scripture the map and chart of his priorities in ministry? Should he not look to the judgment seat of Christ as his final court of appeal? I can't think that anyone who knows and believes the Bible would seriously suggest such man-centered, God-sidelining course.
But then I hasten to say that, if a man makes a grasp of all of Scripture his real touchstone, it will leave him open to instruction and correction. What he learns in his study will send him out of his study. Because he will read in that Scripture that "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26a), that "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12:15), and that "Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid" (Proverbs 12:1).
The pastor who takes this counsel to heart will want to please God by being the humble, teachable, wise man who assumes that he still has much to learn and need of growth (Proverbs 9:8b-9). He will avoid becoming the stone-eared fool who is inseparable from his folly (Proverbs 27:22), and who consequently makes the same foolish mistakes over and over and over again (Proverbs 26:11).
In other words, while he will not be the slave of others' opinions, he equally will not be fool enough to consider himself above and beyond the touch of the counsel of wise friends and teachers.
So there you have it. How does the pastor measure success? Not like any human business or employment. The singleminded focus of the pastor must be to please God. But there is only one way he can tell whether he is pleasing God: if he is ministering out of faith and love, and in compliance with the revealed will and priorities and guidelines of God as given in Scripture alone.
Thus doing, you can cherish the prayerful hope that, at the end, you will be able to say in good conscience:
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous judge,
will award to me on that Day,
and not only to me
but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:7-8)