The Work of the Pastor
By Trevor Lee
If all work is profoundly valuable, what’s the point of being a pastor?
I didn’t have a good answer for that question. I had been on a multiyear journey discovering the importance of all work — that generative work is an important part of what it means to bear the image of God and bring about God’s intentions for all creation. While that is an old sentiment, it wasn’t one I had heard until my early thirties.
Work had always been a platform for evangelism at best; a drudgery to be endured until the weekend at worst. So the ongoing discovery of the beauty, purpose, and gift of work had been a liberating power in my mind and soul.
Despite the joy of what I was learning, as I pastor I was left with the question of the value of my work. I wondered if I should go find a “real” job. I thought my abilities might be better used for the good of the world in a different occupation. Really, what good was I doing leading a church?
But as my journey continued, God began to show me that this new vision for work in the world didn’t diminish the importance of my role as a pastor. It enhanced it. Here are three things that formed that conviction.
1. A good pastor can’t ignore what his people do with over half of their lives.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
At the beginning of a recent sermon I asked people to divide 24 hours among these categories: sleep, rest, work (job), other work, play, entertainment, and other. Then I had them add both of the work categories together and call out how many hours they work in an average day. Their answers ranged from nine to fifteen hours. My guess is that those on the lower end didn’t consider all their work, but even at nine hours a day this represents over a third of their life.
Ignoring the aspect of life that consumes a majority of people’s time is a failure. I know that is strong language, but we must view the shunting off of a significant part of our people’s lives as nothing less. The good works God has prepared for those who follow Jesus are not limited to Sunday mornings and soup kitchens. Those good works, those acts of loving God and neighbor, are scattered across the whole of people’s lives. If we have the imagination to see it, they are not more prevalent at church activities or service projects than they are at the office or the job site. That brings me to my next point.
2. Our people need imagination.
Twice a month we do a “vocation interview” during our worship gathering. We define vocation more broadly than just a person’s occupation, but many of our interviews are about the occupations of our people. We ask people questions like, “How is the character of God reflected in your work?” and “How does the actual work you do express love to your neighbors?”
A couple weeks before the interview, one of our pastors gets together with the interviewee to have a conversation about their work and what they’d like to share with our church. My overwhelming experience in these conversations is that people have very limited imagination when it comes to seeing their work as more than utilitarian—whether than is for a paycheck or evangelism.
The general contractor doesn’t have the vision to see that when he flips a house he is taking something uninhabitable and preparing the environment in which a family will talk, laugh, cry, and grow. The stay-at-home mom is blind to the fact that she is loving thousands of people indirectly by raising her kids to be kind, compassionate, loving, and courageous. Our people need us to help them understand the importance of the work they do so they can steward it well.
3. It will not happen without pastors.
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28
Maturity—completion, wholeness, wisdom, purity—our work is to see Christ formed in each person who God allows us to serve. This holistic maturity—this telos—requires that we help people become all they are meant to be in all of their lives. We will not present people fully mature if they have no idea how to live in their family, neighborhood, school, or workplace as an image bearer of the eternal God.
Who is it that will walk with people toward this goal? Who will have the imagination, conviction, patience, and passion to dig in and do this work? It is pastors who must. We are not first tasked with preaching, organizational leadership, or networking. We are called to make disciples of Jesus—people who live joyfully under his reign in all of life—including work. This is what has enhanced my call to be a pastor. I am a servant of God and his people, given the essential task of helping people live faithfully in all of life so that we might see God’s kingdom come and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. That is a high calling indeed.
Trevor Lee is the lead pastor of Trailhead Church in Littleton, Colorado. He also serves as the regional coordinator of the Made To Flourish pastors network and on the Church Advisory Council of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Take three minutes to watch this video about Trevor’s story.