Pastoring People from the Heart

This FROM A PASTOR’S HEART blog is all about nurturing our heart as a pastor. Our ministry is to be a ministry from the heart. The people to whom we minister have hurting hearts, and our most effective ministry happens when it is heart-to-heart ministry, our heart reaching out to their hearts.

It’s so easy in pastoral ministry to focus on relating to people, especially our leaders, in terms of goals, objectives, schedules, programs, and problem-solving. This results in a disheartening ministry, a leaving of the heart out of the ministry! It results in the people under our care, no surprise here, being disheartened. They deeply want to be seen first as a human being, not as a human doing.

I remember telling one youth pastor after another who served the youth in our church (we seemed to go through quite a number of youth pastors over the years) that the three most important aspects of being a youth pastor (or any other ministry role for that matter) are relationships, relationships, relationships! When I was retiring from pastoral ministry I didn’t have all that many people come up to me recalling some wise words I once taught them; what they reminisced about was the relationship we had over the years. In fact, they frequently referenced our relationship as friend to friend, not so much as pastor to parishioner.

I’ve come to realize that we pastors can focus on having a great teaching ministry, which is important, but, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve also come to realize that if there’s a heart-to-heart connection with people they tend to extend more grace and mercy when you’ve goofed up or dropped the ball. Isn’t that what the apostle Peter was getting at when he wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”? 1 Peter 4:8

One of the great challenges for a pastor is to make meaningful but brief contacts with a multitude of people before and after large or small group events. The few seconds we encounter a parishioner in the hallway or at a coffee hour is, for most of them, their few seconds to connect with us. Do they find us distracted, anxious to move on, or disinterested in them?

I was prompted to think about how I treat people whom I casually meet after reading an article by Douglas Groothuis in Christianity Today magazine titled, “Learning to Say Hello Again.” He concludes his article by stating, “It seems like a small thing, but it really isn’t. How we greet—or fail to greet—others says much about our character. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, we may practice the presence of people by acknowledging and recognizing them for who they are: creatures made in God’s image.”

Every person we meet has been made in the image of God; each has an eternal destiny. Groothuis quotes C. S Lewis in The Weight of Glory, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” How will we treat, even in casual encounters, these beloved creatures of God made in His image and whom He loves?

Most of us have taught and preached on the opening and closing words of the apostle Paul’s letters where he expresses his heartfelt love for his readers. He does so with the Philippian Christians. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…” Philippians 1:3-7a

One of our ongoing prayers should be that we might have a heart for the people He’s put under our care. They need something more from us than our biblically based insights and teaching and our vision for the church (though they need this); they need for us to share our heart with them!