Thinking Aloud: Pastoral Ministry and Efficiency

One of the lessons that I’ve been learning ‘in the flesh’ (as opposed to learning theoretically or by proximity) over the past few years of serving in pastoral ministry is that loving, serving, walking with, and caring for people takes a lot of time.

As such, I find Jesus’ use of agricultural terms and themes (think Mark 4:1-20 or Matthew 13:31) in the Gospels so insightful because it was not only apt for his particular context; significantly, it also highlights the spiritual and material reality that growth, maturity, and development takes time. I started growing some orchids recently and the one thing that I’ve learnt is that plants do not flower overnight. Unlike beautiful orchids that you can pick off the shelf in the store, growing your own takes a lot of time, a lot of watering, and a lot of attention before you even see a little leaf grow as a hint of what will arrive next season.

The same goes for pastoring people, and you don’t need to be a vocational pastor to know what I mean. You may be all too familiar with discipling people who never come to an understanding of grace, mentoring people who are constantly stuck in their ways, and giving counsel to those who know exactly what needs to be done yet can never be motivated enough to do it.

This is why I’ve found this recent article by Ligonier Ministries so helpful because it reminds us that pastoral work is often inefficient, and that’s not always a bad thing. Like the author, I too recoil at inefficiency both in myself and others. And yet, if God’s Word and the experience of His people has taught us anything, it is that loving, serving, walking with, and caring for people will take time. This of course runs counter to our culture’s obsession with instant gratification, which prizes instant results, quick fixes, and fast turn arounds. Social media (with all its pros which I constantly praise) is a perfect illustration of this predicament: we want relationships at the click of a button, updates on our friendships at a flick of a thumb, and a response to a chat at the pulse of our devices. Yet, while these are helpful in bridging relational divides (and how many of us have benefitted from connecting with friends in ways that were impossible before Facebook?), instant fixes do not foster the depth of relationship that is necessary for the human being. Our hearts yearn and crave for more, which is why we keep scrolling, keep nudging, keep ‘liking’ – hoping that the next comment, ‘like’, or feature will bring us the satisfaction that we need (on this particular topic, I really recommend Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You).

But it won’t. Rather, as counterintuitive as it may seem, it is in the extended (and what can sometimes feel like wasted time) conversations where friendships are sealed, where vulnerability is expressed and reciprocated, and where the Gospel is applied.

So invest generously into the lives of people even if it feels inefficient. Just like gardening, relationships are messy, time consuming, and can oftentimes feel counter-productive. A lot of patience, forgiveness, grace, and humility is necessary, and so it’s okay if mistakes are made. As we do that, pray fervently and depend on the Spirit unceasingly because ‘it is the Lord who brings the growth’ (1 Corinthians 3:7), and by God’s grace, we and those we love will flower and mature in Christlikeness.

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