At the conclusion of Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors he lists four lessons we can learn from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609. Each of these four lessons is worthy of careful meditation by those seeking to enter the ministry or those already there. Here is the first lesson.
First, this study of the Company of Pastors has shown that the vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one. As we have seen, Geneva’s pastors faced heavy workloads and encountered many hardships in their pastoral careers, including financial deprivation, incessant public criticism, congregational apathy, and sometimes even physical danger. Far more than “agents of the state” Calvin and his colleagues served as biblical interpreters, spiritual counselors, social prophets, and moral watchdogs that regularly challenged popular beliefs and social conventions, and sometimes thundered against Geneva’s political authorities. The ministers occupied a crucial, yet awkward, position in early modern society as they sought to translate gospel truths into a vernacular that provided hope, meaning, and forgiveness to men and women who sometimes struggled to believe- and frequently struggled to behave themselves. Too often the ministers’ moral indignation and spiritual blind spots only increased the difficulties they encountered in applying Scripture to the needs of their parishioners. Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith. Pastoral virtues like these are still required of Christian workers today even if their congregational contexts are centuries removed from Calvin’s.
When I entered ministry this was not my perspective. As a young man I saw many free hours perusing my books with coffee. I saw sermons that soared to heights unknown. I do read a lot and of course preach, but the ministry is difficult work, filled with anxious moments, mistakes, weariness of body and soul, disappointment, and hardships. Of course, there are joys as well. But I knew that. I expected the mountain tops. But I did not know how deep, dark, and cold the valleys could be. I should have of course. It was prophesied of Christ that he would be ” rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Can I follow Christ and preach Christ and expect ease and comfort? Paul told Timothy:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 2 Timothy 2:3-6
Can I be a soldier and yet live in luxury? Can I be a hard working farmer without long nights and tired muscles? One of the most important lessons young pastors need to learn and seminary students need to be told is that the ministry when it is done right is bone-wearying work. It always has been and always will be.
I wish I knew this much earlier. It is true and right. May the Great Shepherd of the sheep protect His pastors with His mercy always, so that they will be faithful to the end.