I almost stood when he mentioned my name. I was taken completely by surprise. Cecil Janway, Superintendent of the Louisiana District Council of the Assemblies of God, was pointing at me as he took a few steps in my direction. Everyone was taken off guard. He was preaching the keynote message of a minister’s seminar designed to encourage the pastors and ministers of Louisiana to seek a higher level of commitment to God and the service of His people. Brother Janway had lulled us all into the subtle web of his message by his charming manner. As he paced back and forth across the front of that church, he was about to hammer home the need for the fire of God to consume our congregations with repentance and passion for souls. Suddenly, he appeared to be distracted and stopped in his tracks. He grabbed his chin with his right hand, pointed at me with his left hand, and took two steps in my direction.
"Brother Thompson?" I almost stood up. "Brother Eddie. It’s a very small man who can stand on his father’s shoulders and not reach out any further than him."
He immediately backed up to the trail of anointing he had beaten across the front of that church and never skipped a beat in the message he delivered to that room full of ministers. I blinked and looked around at those sitting next to me. Nobody flinched. I thought that perhaps I had just imagined the whole thing. It seemed so out of place--so unusual a forum and moment to give someone a personal word of...of...of what? Encouragement? Instruction? Why me, anyway? Why not one of the hundreds of other ministers there?
All I know is something happened to me in that moment as I sat in the pew of Christian Worship Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. It occurred to me that God had just spoken to me through this leader of our organization in a very public way. I wasn’t sure if I was being rebuked or encouraged, but I knew that something very important had just happened to me. I didn’t hear another word he said. I just kept thinking of that one sentence. "It’s a very small man who can stand on his father’s shoulders and not reach out any further than him."
My father was a very popular man who spoke his mind and was mostly loved for it. He joined the Assemblies of God as an independent minister who had already established several churches. He was a pioneer pastor with the grit and gumption it takes to start from scratch and build a thriving work for the Kingdom of God. I have always imagined that if I could duplicate his success in ministry then I would be a very successful man indeed. Reaching out further than my dad seemed quite the challenge to me. Maybe the whole episode was just a daydream! Later, after service, my dad, my brother, and others would confirm that yes, Brother Janway had stopped, pointed directly at me, and poured words of wisdom my way, though none of them remembered exactly what he had said. I will never forget it.
Since that day I have often wondered if I have what it takes to be a pastor. I know some pastors who seem to be naturals. They do not appear to struggle with the dynamics of the call. My own experience has been filled with successes and failures, seasons of contentment and assurance followed by stretches of inconsistency and doubt. Pastors are supposed to be flawless men and women of spiritual depth never attained by the "common" Christian. I certainly do not feel especially deep spiritually or extraordinarily unique among men. Am I truly pastor material?
I took that question to God one day. Most people probably have insecurities about their purpose in life. At least I know that I often do. Those days when I manage to reach the unreachable with the gospel, or when I deliver a sermon that brings them weeping to the altar, I know without a doubt that God has called me to be a pastor. Other days, when I can’t seem to pierce the darkness of this world, or when I can’t convince my own family God is speaking to me concerning some circumstance, I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a football coach or literature teacher instead.
"Have you called me to be a pastor? Why don’t I seem to ‘feel’ like a pastor sometimes? Do I truly have a pastor’s heart?" It was an innocent enough question. I know of ministers who I would describe as men with the heart of a pastor. They seem to command the title with authority and execute the call with grace. I have heard people describe my dad with those words: He had a pastor’s heart. To be a successful pastor who serves the Kingdom of God valiantly one would certainly need to possess a pastor’s heart. So I asked God whether or not I truly possess a pastor’s heart.
His answer was so simple that it confused me at first. He asked me, "Are you a pastor?" I answered affirmatively, though I could have qualified my answer by stating that I didn’t think I was a very good one. "Do you have a heart?" I laughed at that question. Of course I have a heart. "Then you have a pastor’s heart!" Many young prospective ministers have asked me over the years how they could know if they have a pastor’s heart, and I have usually waxed eloquent with some spiritual sounding answer that probably struck them as rather complicated. God’s ways surely are not our ways.
The logic seemed so simple. I remembered how Jesus praised the Father because He had taken the simple things to confound the wise. We usually complicate things beyond measure by over-examination. His message to me that day was that my heart is a pastor’s heart because I am a pastor. Furthermore, each pastor’s heart is different. God created them that way. The collection of individuals I am charged with leading into the Kingdom of God is different than any other group of people. My heart is required to be unique because I am unique. My congregation is unique. My call is unique.
We sometimes tend to see pastors as more spiritual than most humans. We want to believe that they somehow possess some spiritual quality that separates them from the remainder of Christendom. Most of us were led to our faith by preachers who we know were used of God. We feel a certain gratitude, a certain respect, a certain confidence in their relationship with God. There is a mystique that surrounds ministers. They hear from God, and such activity is shrouded in mystery to an uninitiated world. The men and women who serve as pastors often reinforce this mystique because they enjoy the respect and standing afforded ministers in most of our society.
If we expect our pastors to be more than human then we inevitably fall into the error of considering them less than human as well. This is not to say that pastors aren’t special. Just that every Christian is special, gifted by God to be unique in the Kingdom. We do not serve the cause of ministry if we heap mystery and mystique upon the pastor’s call. We do not help our pastors reach the loss and make disciples if we require them to pursue and maintain an image other than that of Christ’s, which all Christians, ministers and laity, are required to pursue and maintain.
Your pastor has a pastor’s heart. It is unique. He is different than every other pastor, but his heart is no more or less a pastor’s heart because of these differences. His heart comes with the rest of the package God gave him to fulfill his ministry. His giftings and skills are all he has to offer to the Lord who has called him to this purpose. He is a very human individual who strives to be more like Jesus every day. He is no more or less human than you are. No more or less a child of God than you. His call is not easy. To help him be his best you should pray for him, you should encourage him, and you should not expect him to be more human nor imagine he is less human than you are.
My purpose for writing A Pastor’s Heart is to encourage those called into this fellowship of service to realize their own uniqueness is what the Kingdom of God so desperately needs from them today. Do not feel pressured into being someone you are not to maintain an image that more often than not harms our cause anyway. If we are called to reach people we will fulfill that call aptly by taking Christ’s approach. He became human, descended from heaven to earth, so he could understand our hearts and minds more intimately. In our ascent to spirituality, let us remain human enough to our congregations to understand their needs.
I want to encourage the laity to remember that your pastor has needs as well. He goes through highs and lows just like you. He suffers sorrows and enjoys life. He struggles with family dynamics and financial security. Give him the respect that is his due, but do not fashion him a pedestal from which he can only fall. Allow him the opportunity to express his uniqueness through his ministry. Love him as much when he disappoints you with his humanity as you do when he dazzles you with his spirituality.
I do not feel especially qualified to write a book about what it means to have a pastor’s heart. I do not consider myself a "Holy Man" or "God’s Man for the Hour." Yet holiness is displayed in my life when I seek first the Kingdom, and there are moments when I know God puts me in a specific place for a specific hour. I am no "Backslider" or "Hireling." Yet sin enters into my heart occasionally, and sometimes I just go through the motions without the passion of Christ.
Why do I want to write a book about possessing a pastor’s heart? Because I am a pastor. And I have a heart. By looking into my heart perhaps you will understand the freedom I experienced at God’s answer to the questions that had haunted me from the moment Cecil Janway spoke my name that day in the minister’s meeting. Do I have the heart for ministry? Do I have what it takes to be a pastor? I have learned not to be intimidated by my dad’s great heart for ministry. I do not have to struggle to live up to the expectations others may have for me. Cecil Janway’s words to me that day were not a call to duplicate my earthly father’s ministry, but a mandate to be the most effective pastor I can be with the heart my heavenly Father has given me. To use what I’ve been taught about ministry as a stage to display Christ through my own uniqueness. If I try to be Patrick Thompson, Cecil Janway, or Billy Graham then I will never give the Kingdom of God the best Eddie Thompson I have to offer.
There are many books designed to teach normal, ordinary men and women how to become extraordinary pastors. This book suggests that it’s important for extraordinary pastors to remain ordinary men and women. I have assembled a collection of journal style entries illustrating my point. In these pages you will see courage and fear, seriousness and frivolity, deep thoughts and shallow musings. I tried to select passages that offer the entire range of emotions and desires any pastor, any person, endures. Here is my heart. A pastor’s heart. Take a look for yourself at how similar it is to your own. I hope that when you are through reading this book you will conclude that if this guy has the heart of a pastor, then perhaps your heart is sufficient to fulfill the call God intends for your life as well.