Pastoring Versus Governing

While motivating me to join the undergraduate theological training, a pastor-friend of mine said, “The pastorate is better than any career in life. It is better to be a pastor than even to be a president.” His reasoning was convincing enough then. He cited the fact that the pastor commits himself to the eternal rather than to the temporal well-being of his followers. I agreed with him. Pridefully, I was excited to hear that I was going to college to pursue a higher calling than the presidency. That I could be greater than an Obama was alluring, but as I grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the prospect of being greater than a president started to lose its appeal.

While I was in college, another pastor-friend gave me an opportunity to teach a Bible study series about the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. In my study of 1 Corinthians 12 (and related passages), I learned things that started to better shape my thoughts on the comparison between the pastor’s and the governor’s offices. How can one compare the taste of a chocolate bar to that of a chicken steak? They are both good in different ways. I would be hard-pressed to say which was better. Christiano Ronaldo once used a similar argument during an interview in which he was asked to assess how he compared to Lionel Messi’s soccer genius. Said Ronaldo, “It is like comparing a Ferrari to [a] Porsche. They are both really good.”

Had the Real Madrid star been humble, he would not have added, “but I am a little bit better than him.” With this latter addition, Ronaldo messed his publicity stunt. We might argue that chicken has a slight edge over chocolate since the former is unprocessed. However, such an argument would be fallacious. It does not really answer the question; it simply shifts the discussion. Whether or not the chicken is unprocessed does not tell us whether or not it tastes better. Messi’s, arguably, more natural talent does not say whether or not he is a better footballer than Ronaldo. Maybe, as Ronaldo says, they are just Porsche and Ferrari. As many pro-Ronaldo opinions may exist as anti-Ronaldo ones. At least, since, after I prepared and taught the Bible lessons on spiritual gifts, I do not think that the pastoral vocation is better than the presidential one. I think the pastoral vocation is better for my pastor-friends since God has called them to it. The presidency is better than the pastorate for someone who is called to be a president. The man whom God has called to be a pastor sins if he tries to be a president instead. In like manner, the person whom God has called to be a president sins if he attempts to become a pastor instead. In other words, it all depends. It depends on what God has called one to. Whatever God has called you to be is not just better than any other profession, for you, it is the best profession in the world. It is exactly what God created you to be.

Two Birds, One Stone

The tomato vendor, the doctor, the good neighbor, and the lawyer, each has a responsibility to worship God through the specific opportunities that God provides. One time I was headed home from work. It was so late that the PSVs that I depended on were scarce. I saw a man walking towards home, and I thought to make friends with him so as to walk home together for more safety since our city is full of Nairobbery. I managed to make friends with him, and I invited him to church after a brief chat to make his acquaintance. I killed two birds with one stone. I walked home a lot more confidently than if I had been alone, and I was able to seize the strange opportunity that God provided to do the work of His ministry. Two birds, one stone. The question is, does it take a pastor to share the gospel thus? The tomato vendor, the doctor, the lawyer, or just the good neighbor could do exactly what I did. That too is ministry.

I would argue that God has called each one of us, no matter our profession, to minister the gospel. Even if one’s profession is as ordinary as that of a tomato vendor, God has called us all to be worshippers who participate in the making of other worshippers. Christian, whatever else God has called you to, he has definitely called you to the ministry of proclamation of the gospel. Christians can think of ways to kill the two birds of financial and eternal security with the one stone that is their career. For instance, a doctor by profession ought to keep in mind that he/she has been called to participate in the Great Physician’s mission of restoring sinners to Himself. The housewife is called to be a good neighbor by showing her neighbors that the eternal fountain of living water is to be found only in Christ (cf. John 4, especially verse 39). So, if the gospel-proclamation ministry is every Christian’s responsibility, then the pastorate is no better than the presidency as long as they both maximize whatever opportunities God brings their way to do the Father’s business.

Scriptural Punchline

But you may argue, the pastor does gospel ministry more often, and I agree that his role may grant him more opportunities to share the gospel. Remember, however, that Christ (the Judge of our works) looked at the widow who had less money to give to the temple and said that her pennies were more than the paper bills of those who had even more paper bills to spare. She had given her all, God saw that. Christ looked at the percentage of her giving rather than the weightage. Will He not judge those with fewer opportunities for the evangelization of the world but who maximize such opportunities by the same standard with which he judged that widow? Surely, He will. Furthermore, the pastor’s primary role is not necessarily directly evangelistic, even though some pastors may be evangelists (cf. 2 Tim 4:5).

A governing text behind the thoughts in this editorial is Eph 4:4–7; 11–16. Those graciously gifted to be leaders among Christ’s flock are so gifted to equip the saints for the work of ministry (verse 12). It is the saints, and not just the leaders who do the work of the ministry. (Note that the leaders are also included in the term “saints.”) To think that the pastoral vocation is better than any other vocation is ignorant at best, and arrogant at worst. The arrogance may be masked if you compare it to a prestigious office like the president’s, but can you imagine a pastor who asserts that his office is higher than that of the tomato vendor? Does such a pastor not sound eerily like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9–14? Such reasoning does not work for the unity of the body of Christ, but for the glorifying of one member of Christ’s body over the rest (cf. 1 Cor 12:4–31). All spiritual gifts are equal, and none is more equal than others.

In agreement with Piper, “I pray that God will open our eyes today so that we can see that all of us believers, each with his peculiar gift, are part of a cosmic mission given to the church by the Creator… your God-given ability to dispense grace and strengthen faith, may seem small, but as a part of God’s eternal revelation of his glory it takes on stupendous proportions.”[1]