We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1). . . .The church was NEVER meant to be a “professional organization.” We’ll let the world have all of those. The church is not a slick, efficient corporation with a cross stuck on its roof. It is a ministry. We do not look to the government for support or to the state for direction. We don’t seek the counsel of Wall Street for financial suggestions. We have one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not rely on any earthly organization or some rich individual to sustain the ministry. The church is a spiritual entity, built up and supported by its Founder, Jesus—who promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18).
Our business is . . . to deny ourselves and take up the blood-splattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally? We have been crucified with Christ; yet now we live by faith in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). What is professional faith?
We are to be filled not with wine but with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are God-besotted lovers of Christ. How can you be drunk with Jesus professionally? Then, wonder of wonders, we were given the gospel treasure to carry in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God (2 Cor. 4:7). Is there a way to be a professional clay pot?1
Not long ago, I spent some time with a pastor who serves in a church that’s more than 100 years old. As we sat down to have lunch together, I couldn’t help but notice his slumping shoulders and frequent sighs. He seemed weary and burdened. I asked him to describe the church where he has served for many years. After a pause and another deep sigh, he looked me in the eyes: “Chuck, I can sum it up in one word—dysfunctional.” He continued, “The ruts that have been formed are so deep and so long, it’s hard to imagine I could have any influence in pulling the church out . . . and getting it back on track.” As I listened to his words, I found myself nodding in sympathy. “How tragic,” I responded. His joy was gone. His hope was fading. His exciting dreams of yesteryear had turned into boring and predictable reruns.
That conversation reminds me of Ray Stedman’s words regarding the moment he crossed the border into Alaska: “I saw a hand-painted sign on the side of the road that read, ‘Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.’” The same can be said of many a church. Obviously, the preference is to avoid the ruts altogether. But what if you find yourself stuck in one, as my pastor friend did? You need to take the difficult but necessary steps to begin climbing out. Climb alone, if necessary.
1 John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2002), 1–2.