If forced to summarize the essence of pastoral ministry into one word, I’d go with delight. That’s a far different answer than I would have given in my younger years.
Pastoral ministry is about delight. Specifically, it’s about delight in God, Scripture, and his church.
Delight in God
Our first and primary task — or maybe privilege — is to delight in God. It’s our first and primary responsibility. Without this, the rest of pastoral ministry falls short.
Pastors lead best when they can say:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
We’re commanded to delight ourselves in God (Psalm 37:4). While other skills are necessary to pastor well, nothing can replace this foundational task. When a pastor learns to delight in God in the ups and downs of life and ministry, that pastor has something to offer. It’s something the church needs.
D.A. Carson reminds us that people don’t learn what we teach. They learn what we’re excited about. In the same way, I’d argue that people learn most not from what we preach. They learn best from what we delight in. There’s nothing like listening to a pastor who is actively delighting in God.
Delight in Scripture
I’m struck by how many times the psalmist talks about delighting in God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 40:8; 112:1; etc.). I love to hear a pastor stand up and not just preach God’s Word, but delight in it. I was listening recently to a sermon by one of my favorite preachers. I benefited not only by what he said, but also the way that he said it. He loves God’s Word.
I want my people not just to learn the content of the Bible when I preach. I want them to learn how to love Scripture.
I attended a concert once. I left thinking that the band loved to play as much as I liked listening to them. That’s how I want people to feel after they hear me preach. I want them to understand that I know how blessed I am to be able to dig into God’s Word. What could be better?
John Piper has a term for this: expository exultation. What a great term. Pastoral ministry shaped by someone who delights in God’s Word will shape the church in very healthy ways. Not only that, but it will do the pastor’s soul a lot of good.
Delight in Church
I’ve visited a lot of churches in the past few years. There’s a qualitative difference in some of them. I’ve tried to figure out what that is, and here’s what I’ve concluded: Churches feel different when pastors delight in the church. They don’t delight in the church the same way that they delight in God, but there’s no mistaking it: they love their people. They enjoy the privilege of pastoring the people. These pastors overflow with love and concern for people. They are willing to say hard things out of love. They preach and pastor with the tone of a loving father who’s committed to their wellbeing.
Contrast this to the pastor who sees people as a means to his end, the cynical pastor who’s jaded against the church, or the pastor who’s fed up with the foibles of the people. I’ve been each of these pastors in my ministry, and I repent. I want to be known as a pastor who loves his people and God’s church.
Pastoral ministry involves a lot of other things, but the heart of pastoral ministry is delight. If I were to reduce it to its essence, I would tell myself and every pastor I know: delight in God, his Word, and his church. There’s nothing more important in ministry.