"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." (1 Peter 5:2–4)
For many years, I thought of pastors as having a rather cushy job. It might involve writing up a twenty minute talk for the coming Sunday (probably preparing on Friday), and spending some portion of the week meeting up with parishioners, drinking a lot of tea and eating delicious home baked scones during these congenial visits.
Their work hardly seemed to qualify as full time, perhaps more like ‘full time lifeguard’; a little busy on the weekends, occasionally saving a life, but an easy going affair the rest of the time.
That was until I became involved in church leadership at City on a Hill. My mental model of the pastor’s job was shattered as I started working closely with Guy Mason and the other pastors of our church.
The truth I encountered is that pastoring a church requires an incredible amount of hard work and strength.
God has formed in our lead pastor Guy someone with an enormous capacity for work. In other words, he has a very high stress tolerance. There is an art to this. It means knowing how and when to relax efficiently, how to keep many balls in the air at once, and most importantly knowing that spending time with God and His word, and nurturing and cherishing his family are the crucial building blocks to executing his calling. It also means being incredibly well organised, being an effective planner, keeping his word, managing multiple work-flows, managing email (!), and protecting time dedicated to each facet of life.
In modern language, the work of Lead Pastor requires Guy to be a CEO, Footy Captain & Coach, Field Marshal, Family-man of the Year, and Futurist all at once.
Guy oversees the entire City on a Hill organisation. Thanks to the generosity of our people, this means overseeing a church community of 1000 souls; a 15+ strong staff team; a $1million budget; operations on multiple sites, now in multiple cities; a city-wide, national and international presence and profile; and a 52 week multi-event roster, with occasional city-wide events thrown in for good measure.
Leading all of this requires Guy to be enormously dedicated, organised, hard-working, not to mention requires him to deal with a high level of complexity with multiple projects and work-flows operating across City on a Hill at any one time.
The Footy Captain & Coach
Guy oversees our wonderful staff team. Not only does this mean gathering them around the vision and mission of City on a Hill but also being responsible for encouraging them in their individual Christian walk, helping them grow in their skills, ensuring clear communication and coordination, and dynamically adapting his leadership and work teams as the annual rhythm of City on a Hill takes its course.
Through all this Guy isn't on the sidelines. He's in the field leading meetings, contributing ideas, and leading by example by maintaining the highest levels of quality in his work, so that he may encourage others in the same.
The Field Marshall
Aside from the physical costs of long hours and complexity of the job, the preaching and teaching role of a pastor extracts a severe spiritual toll. Like a Field Marshall, the lead pastor is on the ground, in the spiritual battle, along with the rest of his community. Yet because of his position of leadership, he is also the main target of the enemy.
Preachers often experience horror stories in the week leading up to Sunday. It could start with an illness in the home, progress to a break-in, a stolen car, a lost wallet, and end with sleepless nights comforting a crying child or fighting panic-filled dreams. All these things happen in the ordinary sweep of life, but it seems that in the week prior to preaching, they come in legion. So regular does it strike in our household that we know to plan very little else in the week preceding a preaching Sunday.
This seems incredible! It's only 40-odd minutes of public speaking after all! But giving three hours of university lectures a week seems trivial compared to the kind of darkness that surrounds us on a preaching week.
Of course, this is what we have been promised—the one who proclaims the Lordship of Jesus, who teaches his Gospel, proclaims his resurrection and the new kingdom, warns of a coming judgment and the wages of sin—this will be the one that the Evil One will train his attack. It goes without saying that for Guy and his family, the 'outlier week' happens most weeks.
The Family-man of the Year
Against all of this, the pastor is called to live as an exemplary husband and father. God's calling for all marriages is to proclaim the mystery of Christ and His church, applies to the pastor's marriage just the same. However, given the demands as described, it is not difficult to see why so many pastor marriages suffer.
Whilst I'm sure each of us has much to grow in this area, Guy takes very seriously the call to love and cherish his wife and kids. He protects time each week to be with his family and encourages other pastors and staff to do the same. To this end, City on a Hill has committed to providing very generous leave benefits.
Finally, the lead pastor is uniquely charged with looking over the horizon. Biblically, the idea of the 'futurist' is encompassed in the title 'Pastor'. The leader of God's people bears in mind the end of all mankind (the return of Jesus in glory) and that must shape his vision for his own life and the life of his people.
Guy spends a large amount of his mental, prayerful and deliberative energy in considering the path ahead for City on a Hill. This includes the staff and leadership we need, the people and places we will take the gospel to, the ministry structures and support systems needed to nurture and grow our people, and the kind of characteristics (theological and cultural) we wish to cultivate. Although it is the role of all leaders to cast a clear vision, for the pastor, it is essential. Peter's letter is full of this; he reminds his people of who they are and where they are going, so that they have the courage, hope, conviction and strength to live lives worthy of their future made sure in Christ now.
Serving the Pastor
Supporting our pastors, and Guy in particular, is really a heightened version of how we might support any fellow brother or sister in Christ. Be attentive to who they are, get to know them, and pray for them. For the pastors, pray especially for their marriage and their family. Pray for protection from the evil one. A regular prayer for the preacher and his family on Friday or Saturday night would be helpful.
More than this, small acts of kindness and encouragement to relieve the burden are extremely well received, for example a message of encouragement or appreciation through the week. Some may be able to offer more practical help with babysitting or a place down the coast to holiday at for the family.
More than anything, I think that pastors are most encouraged when they see their people changed by the gospel of Christ. To see them embracing the Scriptures, fighting sin, performing acts of mercy and kindness, humbly serving others within City on a Hill but also the city of Melbourne are a reminder of the power of Christ to save and transform lives.