I don’t want to be a Professional Pastor

“If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.” – Eugene Peterson, Contemplative Pastor, p.15

Over the last year, I have been feeling more and more called to the ordained pastorate. This ‘call’ has been discomforting to say the least. I have never struggled more, prayed more, read more, whined more, or yelled at God more than I have over the past year. As I continue this struggle with God, I have examined several possible avenues and options. I continue to look first at my own denomination – the PCA – to decide whether this would be the direction of God’s leading. Last week, I went to our quarterly Presbytery meeting where several young men were being examined to become pastors. What I witnessed was no different than what I have witnessed before. The whole affair can often feel like a cross between a fraternal hazing and really bad episode of Jeopardy. The pastoral ‘contestant’ stands up in front of his brothers in Christ – brothers who generally don’t know him or know anything about him.  They most likely do not know if he understands the gospel and applies it on a heart level, they don’t know if he loves his wife, if he has a good marriage, if his children are loved, if he is in debt, if he cheats on his taxes, if he is benevolent to his extended family, if he is moderate in regard to drink, if he is addicted to pain killers, if he is a forgiving person, or an angry person, or if his neighbors know him and respect him.  They generally do not know any of these things.  Yet they examine him.  They examine his fitness for ministry, not according to the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3, but by his theological recall.  Almost exclusively, this is the criteria by which the candidate is measured. Bearing down, the examiners fire questions at him that scrutinize his theological credibility.

Question: What is the proper Ordo Salutis? (Insert Jeopardy Theme here)

The poor plebian stands there, pits sweating, eyes darting back and forth, looking for the memorized answer that sneaks around the dark corners of his intellect. “The Ordo…uh, the Ordo Salutis is…” He clears his throat with the confidence of a drowning turtle stretching his neck up through his starched collar. Then suddenly his eyes stop darting and he clears his throat again. Unseen, his feeble mind finally arrests the answer in the left side of his frontal lobe. He spits it out like a bullet. “The Ordo Salutis is blah blah blah…”

The examiners smile.  He got it right.  He is so close to validation.  While he may not be able to manage his own household, while he may be greedy and power hungry, while he may have dead bodies buried in his cellar, if he can just continue to regurgitate the proper wording, he will one day be be a pastor.  How tragic.  What are we saying here? Are we really saying that pastoral ordination is nothing more than a cognitive exercise? Are we saying that the primary qualification of a pastor is his intelligence and not his heart?

Meanwhile, the fraternity continues to hurl rotten-tomato inquisitions at the poor, naked plebians while the theme for Jeopardy plays on. “Tell him what he’s won, Alex!”

“Well, Johnny…For all your hard work, preparing for and passing this examination, you’ve won a congregation full of broken people who desperately need the Gospel. They need you to love your wife (you do have wife don’t you?), they need you to preach the Gospel in a way that they can understand it (don’t worry, you can teach them the catechisms), they need you to deal openly and honestly with your struggles (we know that you have none, but maybe you can make up a few sins to show them that you’re real), they need you to help them know how to love their enemies (of course loving is almost synonymous with shooting, we all know that), and they need you pray for them (O Holy Fwather, we beseech Thee…).   Now go out there and knock ’em dead, Johnny!”

Oh man. We are definitely missing the boat. We pastors, we clergy, have become far too poised. Too clean. Too polished. Too…professional.  God help us.  God help me.   May Christ grant me the spirit-filled temerity, the courage, the determination, to say, “No.”  No. I will not be a Professional. I will not be a guy with all the answers. I will not build a white tower of theological intimidation. I will not hide myself in the imposing clerical robes of self-satisfied rightness. I am an amatuer. I am a rookie. I will always be a rookie. I will always be needy, broken, unloving, and unsure. I will always need Jesus. May God grant me a spiritual resolve that will not break under the religious boots of Christian Professionlism.  May Jesus guard me from the temptation, the need, the idolatrous desire, to become an expert.

John Piper, in his book, “Brothers, We are Not Professionals”, says this concerning Pastoral Professionalism:

We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

This thought is so convicting. It violates every fleshly impulse within me. And yet, my heart knows it’s true. May my heart undermine my flesh. The Lord has called me to be a Pastor.  If this is true, then he must show me what this means and how to do it, and when, and where. I’ve been in the ministry for twenty years, and still I am lost without Him. I am no Pastor without Him. He is the answer to my examination. He is my validation. I will hide myself in the hollow of His hand as I follow His call…

“Tim. Come be an amatuer. Come follow me. Come you fool. Come my son. Come and die.”

8 thoughts on “I don’t want to be a Professional Pastor

  1. Tim,
    Very well put. Clear, direct, honest, open, and good. This is a beautiful statement of what Piper is going for. This should be required reading for the Tuesday morning guys.


  2. This is a good look at what a poor guy had to go through in the Old Testament to be a Rabbi and the way we verify a mans ability to minister is based on the amount he knows. What a great thing to see what Christ did with the Apostles and why he did pick them. The reason he picked them was for there hearts and not for there knowledge because with a heart for God we will gain the knowledge we need based on the ministry he prepares us for if we are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. I hope that through your prayers God blatantly reveals to you what to do and that you put all your concerns on the God who made you for that ministry.


  3. I will itemize my response(s):

    – If over the past year of ‘feeling’God’s call (listen, he’ll call and you’ll hear – cf. Isa. 30:21; and if you are hard of hearing, God will whistle for you, Is. 5:26) to church planting has resulted in an increase in your praying and reading, then take another year to ‘whine’ and ‘yell.’
    – Ordo Salutis? That’s a foreign made car, right?
    – Your description of ‘plebians’ as ‘drowning turtles stretching their necks’ is very descriptive and conveys a clear word picture.
    – I don’t speak as an ordained pastor, but I did have a passing experience with an ordination committee years ago and I think most of us have stood before some questioning board, so we know the feeling you’re speaking about. ‘Yes,’ I think pastoral ordination is, in part, a cognitive exercise. That does not bother me but (as I think is your point) if it is reduced to just a cognitive exercise – then of course something is askew. As for ‘Professional Pharisees,’ the bothersome empahsis is stressed on the word ‘Pharisee’ not necessarily ‘professional.’ However, I recoil when I see ‘Pharisaical’ behavior coupled or shielded by ‘professionalism.’ ‘Professional Pharisee’ is like saying ‘professional pistol-whipping.’ I would not be side-tracked by the ‘professional’ moniker because, bro, you already carry the label. That’s right, you are a ‘professional’ minister and I am a ‘professional’ college professor and have been a ‘professional’ sports announcer.
    – As for your fear of being the ‘guy with all the answers,’ don’t sweat it bro, you’re not there yet.
    – And, you need not stress over ‘always’ needing Jesus. You always need Jesus just as he always needed his father. Cf. Jn. 5:30; 15:5.
    – And, finally, it appears to me you have answered you own question, i.e., you state that God “is calling me to be a church planter.” He, then, will provide you with the ‘means’ and say ‘when’ and ‘where.’ There, wasn’t that easy?


  4. Garry,

    Dude, I love you man. You are so witty. You crack me up. As for your responses, there are one or two points that beg for more discussion.

    1. ‘Damnit’ is a slang word. What does Webster’s have to do with a slang word? It’s my slang. Tim slang. And that means I’ll spell my slang words any way I want to, dam&m7it.

    2. On the moniker “Professional” – I know I’m a ‘professional’ minister. I down with that. I’m O.K. with it. I just don’t want to be a ‘professional’ minister. You feel me, dogg. You feel me.

    3. On my fear of being the “guy with all the answers”. I do not fear becoming that guy as much as I fear the expectation of having to become that guy. You feel me.

    The other stuff you nailed right on the money.


  5. Tim,
    Well said! A pastor friend of mine (who perhaps lives the Gospel like none that I’ve known) challenged me on this very issue. He asked me if my adversion to presbytery examination really had more to do with my own issues of authority. Perhap I don’t really want anyone telling me how I should believe, think, or act. I think he’s on to something here. In response I told him that included with that was my own adversion to being forced into a box, regionalized, and branded. I want to be “free” to “move about the cabin.” Don’t make me put a seat belt on, dammit!


  6. Dear Tim,
    I agree with your concern. But don’t always consider the word “professional” in a negative sense. In the process of inducting in the ministry and in the way we do ministry and also in the way we deal with people we need to be professional. Professional in the sense not in a bureaucratic manner but in a smart way. Human Resource development and other sciences of managing a secular enterprise has grown and developed their own system of working well. I am not also telling all are right. But we need to incorporate those ideas of professionalism to become better in ministry. I am not solely talking about the process of examination for selecting candidates for ministry. In a minister’s life there should be professionalism so that he can be effective and smart to win more souls for God.

    I know it is controversial. But hope you got my point too.. “Professionalism” is not altogether a wrong word.


    • John, I agree with you on the whole, yet I feel that our current church culture has become more and more inculcated with corporate business culture. Marketing, image driven consumerism, and top down CEO styled leadership have subverted gospel centered ecclesiology. The church needs grace drenched pastor/leaders who are informed by the gospel, not a wall street business model; we need to be led by the Spirit of Christ, not by cutting edge demographic studies. Sadly, much of our church planting is guided by marketing perspectives instead of biblical perspectives. This may generate short term success, yet those churches often falter when consumeristic expectations overwhelm the leadership core. The church becomes a house that is built upon sand. It cannot sustain itself.


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