Pastoral Passion: Fire In The Belly

“We need a pastor who wakes up in the morning thinking about advancing the mission of this church.”
-Chair of a pastor search team

“Were not our hearts burning within us?”
-Emmaus Road disciples after a brush with Jesus

“Every day, I’m very conscious that I’m in the fight of my life – and I love it!”
-Extremely motivated small business owner 2.5 years after starting, knowing the challenges of
developing a start-up business

“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord…”
-Apostle Paul, encouraging Colossian Christians to focus their passion

Pastoral Passion. What’s it like to live with fire in the belly?
The passionate pastor has such spiritually high moments (victories or successes) that she finds herself doing the fist pump into the air or giving high fives to fellow disciples. Conversely, she also knows spiritually low moments (defeats and failures) wherein she’s ready to quit and walk away, thinking no one knows the trouble she’s seen.

This passionate pastor snickers when he hears talk about life balance; at least in the traditional understanding of life balance. The fire of pastoral passion for advancing this ministry runs hot. Sometimes he’s at risk of red lining his engine due to passionate engagement with the cause. “How well did the Apostle Paul do life balance anyway,” he thinks to himself. At the same time, he’s aware that Paul was not married with children. His passion for ministry creates life dilemmas.

The passionate pastor’s imagination won’t be still. It wakes her up in the night, whispering about community needs which need addressing. She finds herself almost obsessing about what the church could do for Christ, if it just would. Constantly this pastor pulls herself back, reminding herself not to push too hard or too fast, leaving the church behind. This pastor has secret dreams for missional advancement which she whispers to her coach, having to tell someone so that she avoids busting out and sharing them with the congregation too soon.

This passionate pastor serves communion in a personal way, connecting with each participant, knowing some of his/her story. This pastor revels in the baptism of the middle-aged man who pulled back from destructive crisis, instead starting over through conversion to Christ. This passionate pastor goes on the youth mission trip (though not in his job description) and reconnects with why he does what he does. This passionate pastor listens to a woman who needs to talk, describing how every day she’s just trying to keep her family together. This passionate pastor rejoices in the privilege to be invited into the sacred experiences of peoples’ lives.

Most of us want to live passionately, serving with spiritual vigor and enthusiasm, making a difference for Christ. But how does pastoral passion happen? Can we “work it up” or is it simply a gift from God? Good questions. What we can do is describe the soil from which it grows. Just as prepared soil, with just the right mix of nutrients and conditions, produces healthy crops…so a certain soil mix makes pastoral passion more likely to grow.

Strong Connection To The Passionate Christ
Need we mention this one? Yes. We, as ministers, can get so immersed in the day-to-day running of a church that we forget why we do what we do. Passionate pastors are captivated by Christ. They not only admire and respect the ministry of Jesus, they want to reflect the Spirit of Christ. They are committed to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, even above financial security, prominence in a community, and respect and admiration from a congregation. If this ingredient is not in the soil from which one grows, the plant will be a wispy frail miniature of what it could be. The passionate Christ is our model and inspiration.

Need Based Challenge
“Just imagine if there was a healthy church in this community. Through its ministry people would come to know Christ, the quality of life for the residents would rise, isolation would decrease, and individual lives would change. Starting and growing a church here is a worthy challenge.” A new church developer described his motivation for staring the now thriving church with the above statement about the perceived need. It starts with simply noticing – “There is a need.” Then it is followed by the awareness that someone should do something about this need. Then the passionate pastor realizes “the someone” to address the need may be her. And finally, the need seizes the pastor, firing the imagination with possibilities for redemptive activity. The fire in the belly is lit.

Synchronicity With Your Life Trajectory
How many needs are there in only your community, much less in the wider world? We see needs every day which someone should address. Yet, only a few needs in our lifetimes connect with our life trajectory in such a way that we are captured by them. These needs turn into challenges which we can’t ignore. We know deep in our souls this ministry is ours to do; our cause or mission to pursue. Why do some needs become challenges which turn into callings? They are likely consistent with your life trajectory. You can look back and see how you were prepared (uniquely so) for meeting this challenge.

Calls On Your Greatest Gift Mix
This is why ministers need sufficient self-awareness. Most clergy have multiple gifts and assets in their tool boxes, equipping them to serve in many ways in God’s vineyard. But which gifts are your finest to lay before your Lord? Passionate pastors are living out of their greatest gifts, using them to meet the need inherent in the challenge before them. They have discovered a ministry context which needs their unique gift mix in order to advance the mission. When serving from one’s greatest gift mix, energy flows. The pastor is “in the zone.” He feels like he’s riding a spiritual wave which helps the church move ahead.

Marked By Joy
Many days for the passionate pastor are infused with joy. This pastor finds moments of bliss wherein she thinks, “I didn’t expect it to be this good.” Rather than pat herself on the back, she raises her eyes and breathes a prayer of gratitude to God. In these moments and on those days, she’s amazed that a church would pay her to do this. The personal satisfaction she finds in passionate ministry seems payment enough (not suggesting a loss of paycheck here). This is the awareness that one rather be right here, right now, with these people, doing this ministry…than anywhere else in the world. She knows that if life ended now, and she looked back on this, she would say, “That was a life well lived.”

Fire in the belly. Passionate pastoral ministry. May we cultivate the soil of our lives so that passionate pastoral ministry can grow, thrive, and flourish!

Mark Tidsowrth
President, Pinnacle Leadership Associates