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Pastoral Ministry & Wartime Thinking

  • Updated Oct 01, 2019
Pastoral Ministry & Wartime Thinking

When you’re hurting and needing spiritual counsel, do you immediately think of scheduling an appointment with a soldier? A General, perhaps? No, and that’s why the Army has chaplains.

My guess is during the Civil War young soldiers who became gripped with fear and dread did not seek comfort from General Grant. And no one during WWII looked to Patton for a listening ear. Can you imagine the “counsel” Patton would have given to a young man who came to him needing comfort during the march through France in 1944? More than a slap, I’m sure.

Of course, we expect a certain demeanor from Generals. We want them to always have a wartime mindset for the simple reason that we want them to win wars as quickly and efficiently as possible.

But pastors are not Generals. Which is why I’ve been thinking about a recent article by Paul Tripp titled, “Pastoral Ministry is War.” Tripp argues that the “war” is waged on two battlefields. The first battle is to remember that as pastors we no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ and His kingdom. The second battle is for the gospel — to remember that it is not only the “fundamental paradigm for every ministry of the church,” but also “the resting place of our hearts as pastors.”

Both things, of course, are true. All Christians are called to remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). And I know we have passions that are at war in us (James 4:1) as we’re called to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). What I think is unhelpful, however, is framing pastoral ministry in terms of warfare. For if we only think of ourselves at war it will be very difficult to announce peace. And isn’t this the great news of the gospel? “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Our message is the triumph of Christ (Colossians 2:13-15).

Unlike a General leading an army into battle, we are pastors helping people live in the victory our Lord has already won. This is not to deny the intense struggles we have against the world, the flesh, and the devil (I’ve written about this recently). But it is to challenge the usefulness of the paradigm of “warfare” for pastoral ministry.

Brothers, we are pastors, not Generals. So more than thinking of pastoral ministry as war, I pray I think of it more like the Apostle Peter:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4

Mike Pohlman (B.A., University of Washington; M.Div., Western Seminary; Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is husband to Julia and father to Sam (11), Anna (10), John (8), and Michael (3). He also serves as senior pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, WA.
This article originated at Mike Pohlman's blogspot, Permanent Things. Used with permission.

Publication date: August 10, 2011