So, You Want to Be a Pastor?
A young twenty-something sits stapled to the pew, gripped by the power of his pastor’s sermon. The exegesis is precise, the illustrations are impactful, the zeal is palpable, and he is held in rapt attention to the Word of God. Everything snaps into focus as he thinks to himself, “This is what I want to be. This is what I want to do with my life. I want to be a pastor.”
The church always needs more pastors, and when a young man expresses an honest desire for the noble task (1 Tim. 3:1), the church should celebrate.
But what if this young man aspires to something he doesn’t understand? What if he—quite mistakenly—thinks that pastoring is just preaching great sermons, leading big meetings, and studying, writing, and praying forty hours a week?
My aim in this article is not to scare young men away from ministry, but to give them a clearer vision of what a life of shepherding looks like and to challenge them to count the cost before entering it (Luke 14:28-29). The ministry of the pastor is a ministry of sacrifice, most of which is unforeseen.
Here is my appeal to the aspiring pastor: brother, count the cost.
1. COUNT THE EMOTIONAL COST
Jesus, the great shepherd, wept over the flock (Luke 19:41). His ministry was one of deep emotional distress (Luke 22:44).
We are not greater than our master (John 15:20). Gospel ministry was an emotional cost to Jesus, and it will be to us too. Defections from the faith will shake you. Writer’s block will aggravate you. Biting sheep will frustrate, sadden, and wound you. And because Jesus loves you, he will humble you (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Pastoral ministry isn’t easy; it’s not supposed to be.
The good news is that God will work his strength in your emotional weakness. But make no mistake about it, the ministry will take an emotional toll on you (2 Cor. 11:28, Phil. 2:28). If it doesn’t, something’s wrong.
2. COUNT THE FAMILIAL COST
Having a family to serve with you in the ministry will, in many ways, be a blessing (1 Cor. 9:5). Nevertheless, aspiring pastors should know their family will experience the cost of ministry with them.
Little of your family life will remain untouched by the trials and difficulties of ministry. This is not theoretical. I’m talking about your wife and children. Being a pastor’s kid, even in a healthy church, has its challenges. Being a pastor’s wife, even in a really healthy church, can still be quite trying. Even though you will take most of the direct hits, your family will almost certainly catch some of the shrapnel.
To be sure, the proximity of a pastor’s family to the church brings unique blessings! But there is no such thing as an unmitigated blessing in a fallen world. Even in churches where “pastor’s wife” is not considered an office, and where pastors’ kids are allowed to just be kids, your family will still experience life in the local church differently than everyone else, and sometimes painfully.
3. COUNT THE SPIRITUAL COST
My friend Shai Linne says that Satan has special, fiery arrows just for pastors. I think he’s right, especially if you’re the main preaching pastor.
Even in churches with shared preaching responsibilities, the senior pastor will do most of the public teaching, which means his words will be consistently held under greater scrutiny by the congregation. He’ll talk more, which means his ministry errors will receive greater exposure. The senior pastor’s pulpit ministry will, in a sense, represent the doctrinal position of the church, which means he will be a lightning rod for controversy, disagreements, and attacks.
Pastors must endure criticism like Moses (Num. 12:1), false accusations like Joseph (Gen. 39:11-20), abandonment and betrayal like Paul (2 Tim. 4:10), and must take up the cross of sacrificial love like Jesus (John 13:34).
4. COUNT THE PHYSICAL COST
You’ve probably seen the comparison photos of presidents at the beginning of their first term and the end of their second terms. In the first picture, the newly appointed president looks young, virile, and strong; in the second picture, the presidential veteran looks haggard, tired, and old. Hard jobs wear on bodies. Being a pastor is like many other blessings in a fallen world: really good but really hard.
Early mornings and sleepless nights are all too frequent. A busy ministry schedule easily pushes out time for regular exercise. Stress eating (or not eating) is common.
We may like to think of our bodies as cast in iron, but Scripture tells us that they’re more like jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), which all too easily crack under consistent pressure.
The young man who sits in awe of the public ministry of the pulpit needs to know that the pastor who preaches to the church must also shepherd it.
To be an under-shepherd in God’s church is a noble calling and a life well spent (1 Tim. 3:1). Yet the aspiring pastor must never forget that a call to pastor is a call to suffer.
It is my prayer that any young man reading this article will rise up, by God’s grace, and embrace such a calling, knowing that this light and momentary affliction will produce an incomparable future glory (Rom. 8:18, 1 Pet. 5:10).