It’s not so much your method as what you’re dispensing.

Lee Eclov, Leadership Journal, February 2014 (web only)

“Recently I have become really confused about ministry,” the email said.

It was from a pastor with 15 years of ministry experience. He said he was unsettled by the “wide variety of methods when it comes to shepherding and leading a church. Many have asked me, ‘Are you more of a Willow, Piper, North Point, or something else?'”

Maybe you know the feeling. We pastors have this yearning to find some way to distill our work to its essence. If we could just bring an “aligned vision” to our unmotivated, ADD-addled churches then we wouldn’t be so frayed around the edges and ministry wouldn’t be so frustrating. And, of course, our churches would grow like Willows.

The pastor’s email continued, “All the competing voices, needs in the church, and the tugs from within, have left me very confused about how to conduct a ministry that would honor Christ and love people. I have friends who are pastors who are praying, ‘God show me who to shepherd.’ Or ‘Show me where to shepherd.’ I have been praying, ‘God, could you please tell me how to shepherd?'”

For that, perhaps it would help us all to review what we learned in our first pastoral training class—Paul’s mentoring letters to Timothy and Titus. If you’ve been trying to earn your ministry chops by reading leadership and church growth books alone, Paul’s letters are both a relief and a kick in the pants. If God has called you to shepherding, reading about the centrality of faith building, prayer, godliness, and unity is like hearing your mother tongue in a foreign land. Here is where disoriented pastors get back on track. He tells us how to shepherd. Read it for yourself and see.

Getting Our Bearings

I suspect Timothy was disoriented by the ministry. Who can blame him? He dealt with heretics on the right of him, hungry widows on the left of him, and someone forever reminding him how young he was. No wonder his stomach hurt! What pastor doesn’t know that feeling?

With that in mind, look at how Paul reorients him to the how of his pastoral ministry:

Pastoring is a grace to us as surely the gospel is.

Remember your calling. Paul tells Timothy to remember “the prophecies once made about you” (1 Tim 1:18). I don’t know if anyone made prophecies about my ministry when I was young but people did tell me in various ways that they saw pastoring as my future. God laid a gift of shepherding across my shoulders, beautiful like Joseph’s ornate robe. So Paul says to Timothy, and me, and all my fellow shepherds whose ministries are fizzling, “fan into flame the gift of God … For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us (gives us, mind you) power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:6-7). That triune gift, compliments of God’s Spirit, is what makes a good pastor. Pastoring is a grace to us as surely the gospel is.

Secondly, “fight the battle well” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). Paul is talking, of course, about fighting for the gospel, which is not the reason a lot of us are bloodied. In order to defend the gospel, Paul says we will need both hands: “hold on to the faith and a good conscience.” Clutch the gospel and don’t sin. He puts it another way later: “Fight the good fight of faith.” Sometimes we battle sin and sometimes sorrow. Sometimes lies and sometimes lures. Sometimes we’re besieged and other times ambushed. Some battles are around us and often the toughest are within.

Finally, be grace givers. The Great Grace is when we lift high the “trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). But it is also grace when we do the other things these letters teach us: when we choose leaders wisely and treat our fellow believers with the respect due fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, when we are content with what we have, when we ourselves pursue godliness, and when we are always ready to “preach the Word,” even when we’re not in the pulpit.

I’ve written before about a man in my former church named Jim. He was a gangly, grinning, retired blue-collar worker with the goofiest sense of humor I ever encountered. He had come to Christ in his 60s and, oh, how he loved Jesus. His official ministry was usher and he was born to do it. What especially endeared Jim to the church was that every Sunday, when the service was over, he would be waiting by the rear doors for the children. His jacket pockets bulged with Smarties, little rolls of candy, and every child got one. He loved them so much that when he gave out that candy it could break your heart to watch. And we all watched.

Grace isn’t candy, I know, but that is a wonderful picture for pastors. Grace isn’t always about sin. Grace is God’s favor lavished on those who couldn’t get their hands on it by themselves. Meet people with your pockets bulging with grace. A pastor whose pockets are full of grace is likely to see his flock spread grace, too. God’s grace is contagious. Being around grace is like being near someone who can’t stop laughing. Pretty soon, you’re laughing too.

The Bottom Line

How to shepherd? Understand your role as a grace-dispenser, and discharge itexcellently.

When pastors of smaller churches commiserate, the mantra we often repeat to each other is, “Well, God just calls us to be faithful.” (I’ve wondered if the pastors of big churches ever say that to each other.) God does call us to be faithful, of course, but that feels a little anemic to me—perhaps it reminds me too much of the way a coach of a losing team says, “Wow! You guys played with a lot of heart.”

Faithful pastors keep their Spirit-given gift burning bright, we fight for the faith when we must, and we don’t go anywhere without our pockets full of God’s grace.

Lee Eclov is pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire, Illinois.