Pastor S glances at his boulder for a moment and then at the well-worn trail leading up the mountain. He shuts his eyes against the discouraging sight, leans his shoulder into the stone, and begins…
A pastor needs to know theology. If he cannot obtain a Master of Divinity from a solid seminary, he will need to acquire that knowledge on his own. Even with an M.Div, he should be spending a few hours each week in the writings of great men. He needs to read the great “old dead guys” who have shaped the theological dialogue through history. Read Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. Read the reformers and Puritans. Then read the modern men writing in our context, keeping abreast of the controversies and storms that rage on our horizon, reading the present in the past’s context.
The stone barely begins to gain momentum as it reaches the incline. The sliver of optimism fades as the weight of the boulder increasingly presses back upon his outstretched arms.
The pastor must properly prepare a sermon. Thirty hours a week is optimal, but forty may be necessary for a particularly difficult passage. Translate the original text, noting the nuances and syntax. Read the commentaries, preferably spanning that historical spectrum from Chrysostom’s sermons to the best theologians of our day. Span the distance from the high scholasticism to the pastoral application. A good sermon has a clear presentation of the law and the gospel. It has something fresh for everyone, from the seasoned elder to the visitor who has never heard scripture before. It balances the imperatives of application with the indicatives of Christ’s “It is finished!” Meditate and chew the theological cud. Polish until you can clearly see Christ in the reflection of the sermon.
And Pastor S continued to roll the stone up the hill…
A pastor must be a praying man. Jesus often spent the whole night in prayer, and that is the standard we strive toward. Pray for the saints of your church, the lost in your community, and the world. Pray for other ministers and churches, missionaries, and missions. Pray for your own strength, grace, and Christian walk.
Read your Bible for study but have separate time to read the Holy Writ for yourself. Read for your own edification and walk.
And Pastor S rolled his stone…
Don’t forget the people. You cannot truly be a pastor without actively shepherding the sheep. Build those personal relationships with the saints over whom you are placed and for whose souls you are held accountable. Be in their homes and lives, not just in the ivory tower. You need to be regular in visitation, preferably a few people each week, but also to be available for emergencies. This calling is always on-call. You also must make time for counseling the saints struggling in sin and sorrow.
Yet you are also an administrator coordinating people and places, programs, and processes, keeping order in the church.
…grinding through the clay and dust…
Tend your family. Minister to your wife and children. To fail in this is to be disqualified from ministry. Your family is your first mission field, and while you cannot save their souls, you must do all you can to point them to Christ in word, deed, and example. You need to make yourself available to them physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Tend yourself. Exercise regularly and get plenty of rest to make sure that you are at your best. Your appearance affects your testimony. Develop interests and hobbies outside of theology to help you connect with others. Be well-read outside of theology, learning storytelling and metaphors from other literature. Mortify sin and bear that fruit of the spirit. Live Christ to the world in love.
Be wise, be strong, be all things to all men.
…nearer and nearer the peak.
You will fail. Each week you will fall short of the glory of God. At the end of Sunday, you will feel the weight of your sins. You weren’t the pastor you should have been, the theologian, father, husband, or counselor. You examine your heart and find sins shoved in the cracks of the wailing wall of your life: idolatry, lust, anger, covetousness, unspoken lies, and so… much… pride. Everywhere you somewhat succeeded, pride rushed in like water into cracks. And don’t forget the envy of other ministers who have accomplished more. It is back to prayer and confession before the God who knows.
Sisyphus stumbles. The boulder rolls back with unstoppable weight, crushing him underneath. The scream is cut short as he is ground into the clay himself. Down it tumbles. He looks up just in time to see the boulder roll to a stop below. Pastor S crawls to a sitting position and gazes below.
In your frailty and weakness, God is glorified. In your stumbling perseverance, God is glorified. If you succeeded in earthly terms outright and the pride went un-mortified, it would glorify you first and God second. But it glorifies God to confound the wise with this world’s weak and simple things. It has been a long week of pushing this stone up the hill, and it will begin again tomorrow. Even where you failed, God accomplished His purposes. But it’s one more week done. You are one week closer to heaven, Jesus’ return, and eternity with your beloved savior.
Pastor S, bleeding, broken, exhausted… He smiles. Sisyphus here is happy because he has counted all as loss for the sake of Christ.
Chris J Marley is the pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, AZ. Chris has a BA in Theatre, an MDiv from Westminster Seminary California, and a certificate from the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies. He is the author of Scarlet and White.