Every pastor I know wants to be effective. We want depth: we want to have souls that have been shaped by God and have something to offer. We want impact: we want people to encounter God and his grace through our ministry.
An industry has grown to help us. Books, blogs, podcasts, and conferences offer us tips and hacks for ministry.
But here’s what every pastor needs to know: you can’t hack your way to a faithful ministry. You can’t learn pastoral ministry from blogs (including this one) or conferences. Avoid anything that looks like a ministry hack, because they simply don’t exist, and anyone who peddles hacks can’t be trusted.
Dallas Willard wrote:
The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy … We intend what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality.
You can’t just pastor in a way that’s right. You have to live the kind of life that will help you get there. Good pastoring comes from growth in godliness, and growth in godliness comes from growing in obedience over time.
The only one way to develop a soul that has anything to offer is to walk with God through the ups and downs of life, faithfully participating in the ordinary means of grace for a long time. Such a soul comes from experiencing God’s sanctifying work in your life for years. Suffering helps. So does growing old, but even that isn’t enough. God will work in you through his Spirit, and you must respond to that work in faith and obedience. You can’t microwave or hack your way to this kind of growth. When it comes to ministry, everything you offer is a result of that deep walk with and delight in God, and no shortcuts exist to get there.
You can’t hack your way to a weighty soul.
The same applies to the the practices of ministry. You can learn how to preach in a homiletics class. You can learn some pastoral theology from reading books. In fact, you should. But effective pastoral ministry comes from learning from faithful pastors. It comes from long hours of prayer, and increasing in your knowledge of God.
I read and write blogs and I benefit from them. I attend conferences. I love a good podcast. I appreciate practical books. Enjoy all of these if they help. Just don’t expect too much from them.
Instead, learn ministry from other faithful pastors. Read old biographies and study church history. Cultivate your walk with God. Learn how to suffer well. Deal with your habitual sins. Pray that God refines you. Study Scripture. Love your people. Stay humble. Read books that stretch you. Learn not to complain. Repeat. Ask for God’s help as you do so.
Resist when people tell you that ministry is different today than it used to be, and that they’ve discovered a new secret that will unlock your ministry potential. Ignore such voices. Instead, to borrow a phrase from Eugene Peterson, keep working the angles.
God is gracious. The good news is that the Spirit is already at work in the life of every believer, growing us and shaping us. Ask for more of that, and ask him to use you even though you and I have a long way to go.
In the meantime, skip the ministry hacks. You’ve got more important work to do.