[for more context, see the original post Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Pastor]
The first tip for becoming a better pastor is to separate your identity from your vocation. To say it another way: There’s nothing more contradictory than a pastor whose identity is in pastoring.
Pastoring is your vocation, not your identity. You must not confuse the two. If you do, then being a pastor becomes more important than pastoring. And in that case, you are not serving God’s people; you are using them. It’s become about you, not them. You have become Saul, not David; Judas, not John.
Over time, men who find their identity in ministry end up punching the clock for a paycheck rather than leading the mission out of love for God, His word, and His people. They become cold, calculating pragmatists rather than warm, joy-filled worshipers. You’ve probably met these kinds of guys at pastors’ conferences. Don’t be like them.
If you have trouble separating your identity from your vocation, here are three helpful recommendations:
- Preach the gospel to yourself. Your identity comes from what Christ has done, not what you have done. You are a son of God in Christ. You are a member of his family. You are one of his chosen people. THAT is your identity. That doesn’t change. God delights in you just as much when you preach a profoundly poor sermon as he does when you preach a particularly good one. You (hopefully) say this kind of thing to other people all the time. Now tell it to yourself. And keep doing so until you start believing it.
- Quit your job, often, in your head. What if you got fired tomorrow? What would you do? Think about all the other great jobs you could have. You could be a construction worker, a consultant, a UPS driver. Or, if it’s been a particularly stressful season: you could be an ammunition tester or a lumberjack. My favorite dream vocation is to be a mailman, because every day ends with closure and you never bring your work home with you. The point is: if you had any of these jobs, you would still be you. And you would still be able to raise a family and glorify God and make disciples and serve others and live on mission. You are not your job. Quitting your job regularly helps to remind you of this.
- Get away regularly. At least once a year, take a long vacation. If you’ve been at it for a few years, schedule a sabbatical. Plan ahead to not preach 10-15 times each year. Amazingly, your church will be fine and so will you. And these times away will be great opportunities to remember who you are apart from your vocation.
So, if you want to be a better pastor, separate your identity from your vocation. Your people will be able to sense your freedom and joy. And that will make them more free and joyful.