While in Seminary the students receive a course entitled Poimenics. The purpose of this course is set forth in the syllabus used for study. It is “to prepare the student as much as possible for his calling and duties as a Pastor of the sheep of Christ.” The course deals with the labors of a minister as he goes in and out among the members of his congregation applying the Word of God to their specific needs and cares. Being a pastor and being a preacher are two different aspects of a minister’s calling. To be sure the two cannot be separated. Whether a minister proclaims the Word of God from the pulpit or individually to certain members of his congregation within a concrete situation he yet does so as the ambassador of Christ who proclaims God’s Word to God’s people.
I have been asked to write concerning some of my impression of my pastoral labors now that I have been in the ministry for a little while. The first thought which struck me when I began was the pastoral care was different from and in a way more difficult than preaching. Not because preaching takes less time or less work but because in pastoral care one must deal with a certain problem which often times comes rather unexpectedly. For example, all of a sudden the telephone rings and I am told that tomorrow morning early a person will enter the hospital to undergo a serious operation. Or perhaps another calls and asks me to come over as soon as possible to discuss a certain problem he or she is having (a problem which is often left unsaid on the telephone). There then is no time for any detailed preparation; no time to rehearse the way in which you will say things. Perhaps in the former case related above I might have a little time to find a passage and to meditate upon it a while. But certainly there is not near as much time spent on what must be said as there would be for a sermon. The Word of God must be applied immediately to that particular need. It is certainly true, as our Professor told us, the course which we took could never, no matter how detailed a course it may have been, cover every conceivable situation a pastor might encounter in his ministry.
What to my mind must be remembered in all of one’s pastoral labors is the fact that I as a minister, who is called of God to labor as His under shepherd, am myself a sinner who must out of the love of Christ labor among the sheep of Christ who are also sinners. And that implies three things.
First, that I am dealing with saints which are sinners. Oh yes, we are the redeemed children of God. But we all have but a small beginning of that new life in Christ. That old man of sin within us is constantly working, turning us from the good that we will do, causing us to perform the evil that we will not to do. All of us are sinner – redeemed sinners– but sinners nonetheless. Because we are sinners we often run up against difficulties in our lives. Many and varied are the difficulties; problems in the family or at work, illness, the afflictions of the aged, the bereaved, the widows and the widowers, those institutionalized (in hospitals or rest homes), unrepented of sins, mental illness, spiritual guidance with a view to a particular problem. Each difficulty in these various spheres is different and must be treated differently.
A minister has much more to do than many people tend to think. He does not merely have to produce two sermons a week and his labors are accomplished. I do not mean to leave the impression that a minister is far too busy for your problems. Never must we think that our problems are too small with which to bother the minister. They are not. Neither is he too busy for you. 1 would be very hurt if someone would fail to come to me because he thought I was too busy. Every minister of God would be. After all that is the minister’s calling, and as an under shepherd of Christ he wants to be there whatever and whenever the need should arise. This is his place within the midst of the flock.
Secondly, that which is most fundamental in a minister’s pastoral duties is that they must be performed out of love. Christ loves his people and he expects his under shepherds to do so also. The love of God and of his people must be the underlying principle of all that a Pastor does. I think that Christ himself sees to it that his under shepherds grow in that love. I have not even been in my congregation a full year and already I feel a very close attachment to it. I believe every minister of Christ feels that with regard to his own congregation. I am now beginning to understand that to leave a congregation to go to another is not an easy decision to make. After a year or two a minister is really just beginning to know and understand the needs of his congregation. He has learned through his labors among them to love them. And that love serves as a bond which unites him with them.
Out of that love many responses and affections flow; compassion and understanding for those with difficulties in life, sorrow for those who suffer from sickness or loss, concern for those who stray. You laugh with God’s people but also you mourn with them. A pastor loves his sheep.
Finally, that which is always a burden to a pastor is the fact that he feels very incapable of himself to perform the tasks whereunto he is called. I feel very inadequate for the tasks. My own personal sins are always there to remind me that I am no better than the sheep. I have been called as an under shepherd of Christ to care for the flock and He by His grace qualifies me for the task. But at the same time God reminds me that I am nothing and am able to do nothing myself. In that way He humbles me and teaches me to rely upon Him. I as all of God’s saints must pray unceasingly. 1 must ask God to fulfill in me all that is necessary to shepherd my flock. God by his grace and out of love for his people uses sinful and weak men to care for His Church. And ever thankful must we be that He does.