Pastor to Pastor

What We Seek

What is the goal of pastoral ministry?

Ministry for Mission: Ministry Outcomes (1)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3.18

“As the beauty of the divine nature primarily consists in God’s holiness, so does the beauty of all divine things. Herein consists the beauty of the saints, that they are saints, or holy ones: it is the moral image of God in them, which is their beauty; and that is their holiness.”

  - Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in Three Parts

What are we trying to accomplish?
Two memories from my more than 40 years in ministry come to mind as I begin thinking about the outcomes we should be seeking from the work of pastoral ministry.

The first is an experience in seminary. Through four years of study, I had never ascended the pulpit in our seminary prior to preaching my senior sermon. As I walked up to begin my message, I was arrested, and a bit unsettled, by a simple bronze plaque, affixed to the desk at a point just above where my open Bible would lie. The plaque said simply, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

The second is from some 20 years later. A candidate, recently graduated from seminary, was being examined by our presbytery for a call to a one of our churches. As part of that examination, he was required to preach a sermon, after which the pastors and elders of the presbytery would discuss the merits and shortcomings of the sermon, and decide whether to pass the candidate for this part of his trials.

The sermon, as I recall, was from 1 Thessalonians 2 – most of the chapter. The thrust of the sermon was to outline the work of shepherds, following the example of Paul. The young preacher made many excellent observations, and applied the text in helpful ways, demonstrating his understanding of the work he was seeking to undertake. Upon completing his message, the candidate was dismissed from the room, while the brethren commented glowingly on the sermon: “Careful exegesis.” “Excellent observations and applications.” “A thoughtful, practical, and very helpful exposition.” And so on.

Except that candidate had forgotten the first rule of preaching, as set forth on that pulpit plaque. Nowhere in his sermon, or in the prayer opening the sermon or the prayer closing the sermon, did the candidate so much as mention the Name of Jesus. A brother in the presbytery pointed this out, but his objection was brushed aside: “Well, if we wanted him to preach an evangelistic sermon, we should have said so!” The candidate’s sermon, sadly, was passed.

What are the outcomes we seek from the work of pastoral ministry? From the long hours of sermon preparation, the many and varied meetings for church business, the counseling, visits to hospitals and in homes, advising and directing and training others? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it enough that our ministry be grounded in the Word, filled with keen insights and observations, and eminently practical? Or that we attract new people to our churches? Multiply services and programs? Meet our budget? See to it that needs are met?

Or ought we pursue some more specific and observable outcomes from our labors?

The Spirit in the believer
Since pastoral ministry is a work of the Spirit and Word of God, we do well to consider what the ends of the Spirit are in His mission among us. These are easily enough discerned.

In each believer, the Spirit is working to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. We are made in God’s image and likeness, but that inherent beauty and excellence is marred and obscured by the sin which besets and controls us before we believe. Upon coming to faith in Jesus, the Spirit takes up residence in our soul and begins the work of recovering that neglected and tarnished image, so that each believer might increase in the likeness of Jesus. This is the work of sanctification, a work of the Spirit and Word of God, by which we are exposed to and immersed in the glory of Jesus Christ exalted, and gradually changed “into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Can we embrace any other outcome for the work of pastoral ministry than that which the Spirit seeks? If our efforts in God’s Name and on behalf of His people are not deliberately, consistently, unapologetically, and effectively aimed at seeing the saints of God formed into the beauty of Christ and His holiness, then we are simply aiming too low.

So also for the church. The Spirit gives gifts to church members for their mutual edification as the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12.7-11). Pastors and teachers are to equip the saints of God as the image-bearers of Christ for works of ministry reflective of Christ’s own work, so that the local congregation can “grow up in all things into Him Who is the Head – Christ” (Eph. 4.11-16).

The measure of a local church, and the outcome we should seek for the churches we serve, is thus that the grace of God should be so lively and effective amongst us that the church itself becomes the incarnation of Jesus in the local community, demonstrating and proclaiming the reality of His Kingdom, precisely as He did (Matt. 4.17).

Pastors are set in churches by the Spirit of God to facilitate and enable the great work whereby God makes believers and churches reflect and refract the risen Christ to the world.

Glory in all things
What happens when believers go into their daily lives, transformed into the image of Jesus, and living as His witnesses? What impact does a local church have in its community, which radiates the beauty, goodness, truth, mercy, grace, and Kingdom presence of Jesus to its neighbors? The evidence from the prophets (cf. Is. 2.1-4; Mic. 4.1-8), the book of Acts, and the rest of the New Testament is that people are drawn to the presence of Jesus in His people and in their congregations, just as they were drawn to Jesus, in great multitudes, throughout the course of His earthly ministry.

Also like Jesus in His ministry, those who live for Him expect to suffer with Him (Phil. 1.29), to endure hardships, to undergo suffering and trial, and to undertake labors of sacrificial love by which the glory of God in Jesus breaks forth and shines convincingly in all manner of situations. Jesus glorified the Father by His life and work (Jn. 17.1-5). He has sent His followers, and is building His Church, for the same work of glorifying God (Jn. 20.21).

The outcome to which we must devote all our labors as ministers of the Word of God is that people would see Jesus – those who know Him would see Him ever more clearly and consistently, to follow Him ever more gladly and powerfully; and those who do not know Him would be confronted by Him through the good works and truthful words of those who are being transformed increasingly into His image.

It behooves pastors to reflect on their calling in the light of the words of those ancient Greeks. What do the saints of God need from your labors? What are you seeking for your congregation as a whole by your diligence, sacrifice, and faithfulness on task?

“Sir, we would see Jesus.” That seeing Jesus, we may be like Him, may show Him to the dark and dying world, and thus fulfill our calling in His Kingdom to glorify God in all things (1 Thess. 2.12; 1 Cor. 10.31).

He says that the church’s order has been so formed as to join the human race together in the profession of unity, so that all may be in Christ, having Christ as their single head, that is, as the source of life.

  - Ambrosiaster, Epistle to the Ephesians 4.12.16

T. M. Moore

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.