Good News, Ordinary Pastor! You Don’t Need a Winning Personality
All men are created equal. No two men are equally created. On one hand, all people are created in God’s image and every believer enjoys full status as God’s adopted child in union with Christ. On the other hand, our sovereign Creator never employs a single-use template of individuality when designing each of us.
We don’t live long on this earth before we are stung by the sheer “unfairness” of such divinely ordered differentiation. At an early age we come to envy the superior strength, height, speed, or appearance of another boy. It takes longer, but the realization dawns soon enough that we are not as mentally astute, gregarious, witty, or charismatic as some of our peers.
In time such insights inform our self-assessment of pastoral capacity. First, I discern that God did not endow me with the most winning personality. Then I perceive that my personality limits the effectiveness of my ministry as an under-shepherd of God’s flock. I don’t want it to, but it does, and will continue to do so. For us duller types, this realization is a sting that keeps on stinging.
You naturally attain such insight by comparing yourself with more gifted pastors. This reality also slaps you in the face as members of your flock inform you by various ways and means that your personality does not compare favorably with other pastors they have known, or know about, or imagine they know about. They tell you in ways overt and covert that if only you had a more winsome personality the church would thrive or thrive more. Though hard to receive, you know such critique is not entirely devoid of truth. Hey, sometimes you even find yourself boring!
The good news for the unspectacular pastor is this: “winning personality” is not found in the list of pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1. What is writ large over those passages is character not charisma, faithfulness not magnetism, love for God’s people not an alluring persona. Yes, you must earn the flock’s trust. They must know that you are for them and steadfastly love them. It is not essential, however, that they find you charming, hilarious, dashing, or uniquely winsome. It’s less important that they want to hang out with you. It’s of utmost importance that they know you love God and that with warm zeal and welcoming invitation you long for them to follow Jesus with you all the way to glory (Col 1:28-29).
That said, how should we duller types respond to the debilitating effects of our prosaic constitutions?
Be happy, dull guy! God made you with sovereign purpose and fitted you with all the gifts necessary to fulfill any ministry he assigns to you. Might not a more charismatic man do a better job shepherding the flock you oversee? Only if the Chief Shepherd assigns that task to him. If Christ has commissioned you to shepherd a particular flock, rest in his sovereign purposes and faithfully lead that flock with all the love and skill God grants you. Refuse to cast envious eyes on the success of a more winsome shepherd. Weed jealousy from your soul. Stay focused on your standing in Christ. Fulfill the stewardship he has entrusted to you.
Second, recognize that pastors with winning personalities face temptations we duller types seldom do.
While unspectacular pastors tend to struggle with envy or self-pity, those with outsized personalities tend to struggle with prideful self-dependence and a dismissive spirit toward average souls. While they attract more enchanted followers, they also tend to leave more wounded sheep in their wake. Such observations are of scant consolation to those of us who would happily lug about the burden of a heavier backpack of charisma, yet there is grace to celebrate wherever we are spared temptation.
Third, refuse to settle.
We duller types must not settle for pedestrian personalities. As you attend your heart, continue to analyze whether any aspect of your humdrum persona is rooted in laziness, selfishness, ingratitude, the fear of man, self-pity, a lack of love for others, or the like. If you are actively rooting out sin and progressing in Christlikeness, your persona will certainly improve. Don’t settle. Keeping growing.
Fourth, learn to trust the power of Word and Spirit to accomplish what a winning personality never could.
There are some freakishly gifted pastors out there whose personalities serve like a lamp to bugs on a summer night. But remember that while their winsomeness may attract more attention and open more doors of opportunity than you will ever experience, their gifting is incapable of effecting sanctification in the lives of Christ’s flock. The church is formed and purified by Word and Spirit alone. So preach the Word persistently and faithfully. Depend upon the Spirit to save and sanctify souls, remembering McCheyne’s maxim: “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (R. M. McCheyne to Dan Edwards, Oct 2, 1840).
Ordinary pastors have a unique privilege to revel in the truth that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27-29). We duller ones can uniquely revel in the truth that we hold the treasure of the gospel “in jars of clay” so as “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). That, ordinary pastor, is your glory: to see God work his surpassing power in and through your ministry despite your clay-pot-like weaknesses, or even because of them.
The Spirit uses ordinary means of grace to accomplish extraordinary works, and Christ uses ordinary stewards of that grace to broker extraordinary influence for his kingdom. Such lasting achievement is never effected by the power of one’s personality. Ever. It is effected only by the power of the living God to save and transform souls. Before his eternal throne, and in his glorious presence, we will boast only of him. Forever.