Pastoral Responsibility and Its Limits
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
I ‘ve been in pastoral ministry for thirty years now, it’s hard to believe that I have served that long. I have been a staff member with the Agape Force, Director of College and Career for an Assembly of God fellowship, and a charismatic Baptist Church (S.B.C.). Also, I pastored an independent charismatic church called Christ Our Life. The last fifteen years of my pastoral ministry has been with the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.).
Serving as a presbyter (i.e., priest) as opposed to a preacher/pastor has been fulfilling. Maybe in the coming weeks, I can explore the differences and similarities of being a priest as opposed to a pastor. But for the moment, a presbyter and a pastor both feel a great spiritual burden for their sheep. Pastoral ministers live with the grief of departures, the sadness of unexplainable suffering, and seeming futility of their work.
All of us as ministers struggle with discouragement at times. You work with people, spend time with people, exhort people to trust Christ, and then, watch those same people make bad moral choices. You wonder what you could have done to prevent such spiritual calamity (Heb. 13:17).
In the past, I would often feel guilty for their failure. Somehow I thought, I must not have said the right thing, or taught the needed truth, or spent enough time with them. Then, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. He said, “I have called you to love, to serve, to teach, to counsel, to encourage, and to pray for others. However, each person has to make their own choice to walk in the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). You cannot make others walk in the Spirit, all that you can do to is to encourage them to trust me.” In other words as a pastor, you cannot make people choose righteousness. Their choices are their responsibility.
The Holy Spirit’s words have brought an immense amount of comfort to me. The decision is up to each individual: Do they really want to change? Do they really want Christ more than any worldly pleasure or fleshly desire? Do they really want to please Christ in their attitudes and actions? Do they want Christ more than anything (Phil. 3:11)? For pastoral ministry to be effective, we must have an unreserved willingness to change, to hear God, and to obey his instructions.
We must have the unconditional readiness to change in order to be transformed by Christ.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), vii.