Pastoral ministry in the local church has several faces.
There’s the ‘public work‘ – what can be seen. This includes leading of worship, preaching, teaching, meetings, pastoral meet ups, social media and the like. All the things that you can look at from the outside and say ‘that’s pastoral ministry being outworked.’
Then there’s the ‘background work‘ – what is sometimes visible by some. This is the daily administration of teams, planning, writing, strategising, thinking, communicating, etc. These are all the things that, with others, keep things moving along.
Then there is the ‘secret work‘ – sometimes only know to God. That’s what I want to talk about now. It is secret in that it is a prayerful work, a reflective work, and very often a solo work, even when there is a wider team. This is where the weight of ministry is held, before an ever gracious God, and where the pastor gives highest continual account as those who will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).
It is an intercessory place – where a pastor will get on his knees for the pains and joys of their people, for the glory of God’s name, for the mission, for the lost, for the communication of the Word, need of every ounce of grace for a task for which we feel largely unworthy and unqualified for.
It’s a place of warfare – the enemy’s tactic is to ‘divide and conquer’ and the attack is greater at the pastor’s door, so the pastor needs to be well hidden in Christ, well covered in Him, and kitted for battle. It is consecration; it is bringing the most human of lives into the divine presence to be rededicated and empowered again for the next task.
It’s a preparatory place – because of this, its the place where the pastor soaks in the Word and in the Presence, and the source of the public ministry. This is where the pastor/minister brings his/her own heart to God that the work of the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be done in them first before it gets anywhere else.
It’s also a work that is least understood because it’s not directly on view, although you’d notice if it wasn’t there. It’s also a part of the work that many pastors I know struggle with maintaining and keeping proper space for, because many won’t understand the time needed to be invested here for effective ministry. The result is that many sacrifice this for ministry that can be seen perhaps to avoid criticism, to meet unrealistic expectations, or to win approval because one is ‘seen’.
There have been times in my ministry where I’ve neglected the secret work for all of those reasons, but the further I go on, the more I recognise that, in many ways, it IS the work. When the apostle Peter came to the place of appointing deacons in the book of Acts 6:4, he says, in effect, ‘we need help with so many other tasks so that we can continue to give ourselves to the ministry of prayer and of the Word.’ Reality means that pastoral ministry will always be a smorgasbord of activity in these days, but prayer and the Word must never be neglected.
Dear pastor friends – maintain your work in the secret place.
Folks in the fellowship – know that you are loved and held.
The needs of our day are different from the needs of any other time and history – and in the cacophany of the age, there are things that really need to be grounded in the depths of our calling as the people of God…for His glory alone.