Can you think of a celebrity pastor whose fame is based on something other than his preaching (or on his books which are, in all likelihood, based on his preaching)? Can you think of one who is known more for his prayers than his sermons, for his words before God than his words before man? Can you think of one who is known more for his hospital visits than his pulpit proclamation? Can you think of one who is lauded for his tender care more than his powerful exposition?
Celebrity pastors are almost invariably known for their preaching and teaching—for the most public part of their vocation. And that’s well and good when it comes to the pastors we know from afar—the ones whose sermons and podcasts we love to listen to and to benefit from.
Yet we can have very different expectations for our own pastors, can’t we? When we think of our own pastors with fondness, or perhaps with frustration, we often apply a different set of criteria to them. After all, there is far more to pastoral ministry than preaching. It may be the most public part of a man’s ministry, but it’s not necessarily the most important, or the most impactful, or the one that meets our deepest needs. As much as we need pastors to faithfully and boldly exposit the Scriptures for us on a Sunday morning, we need pastors for much more than that. When we remember those men who most faithfully pastored us, we probably think of more than their sermons. And there’s a reason for that. The faithful pastor serves his people faithfully not just in the most public element of his ministry, but also in the most private. Just as he meets with the whole church on Sunday morning, he meets with individuals or families throughout the week, and then his task is to minister God’s truth to them. He brings the challenge and comfort of that Word when his people most need it.
And so when I speak to pastors, I love to remind them, as I remind myself: The highest privilege and greatest honor in pastoring is not standing in the church pulpit but praying by the hospital bed. It’s not being accorded the highest place but carrying out the least-seen service. It’s not broadcasting the truth to thousands, but whispering it to one. The holiest moments of pastoring are the ones that are seen by the fewest people. And in the end, I’m convinced these are the ones that mean the most. Most people will forget most of your sermons, but they’ll remember that when they called, you came. They’ll remember that you were there when their hearts were broken, that you were there to lead them to the Lord and to speak his truth into their sorrows.
There’s no great trick to getting invited to speak in front of thousands of people at a conference. Just grow an audience, build a platform, and the invitations will soon be pouring in. You’ll be able to stand on a stage in front of a packed-out conference center and preach the Word to them. It is a great honor and not to be taken lightly. But to be invited to a hospital room, to be invited into people’s darkest, hardest moments, to be invited into their happiest, most joyous times—this is pastoring at its peak. This should be your aspiration—not to be so known by strangers that they invite you to speak at their conferences, but to be so known and loved by your people that they’ll invite you to serve them when they most need to be served.
There is something so holy about placing your hands on another person and interceding on their behalf, that God would bring them hope and healing, that he would be more present in their trials than these hands are present on their body. There is something so sacred about laying your hands on a person devastated by illness or trauma and praying that God would bring his healing to their bodies and souls. It’s not because your hands contain any great spiritual strength or channel any great spiritual power, but that they show love and tenderness—God’s love and God’s tenderness. Presence and touch offered and accepted in times of deepest trouble—these are tremendous privileges and high honors. The very height of pastoral ministry often comes in the lowest places and the lowest circumstances.
The celebrity pastor we’ve never known—the one most of us cannot know—is the one who is known for being a great pastor. That’s no fault of his; he may be someone’s pastor, but he’s not ours. He may do all of these good things, but we do not and cannot see him doing them. The pastor we want and need may not preach with the power of that other man; he may not exposit with the force of the one whose podcast you enjoy; he may not ever stand before thousands as a model preacher; but he will be there. He will be present through the soaring heights and terrible lows that life brings, and he will minister God’s truth through it all. That’s the pastor we all need, the pastor we all ought to honor.