with Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: I am 15 and a junior in high school. I think I want to become a pastor. My father is an elder at our church. He reads your column and gave it to me. He encouraged me to write you. I have never really heard directly from God about this. I mean, He has never spoken out loud to me. Becoming a pastor is just something that has been on my mind for the longest time. My parents think this is a good idea. I am not sure I can talk to my pastor about this. He is a good pastor. But he does not seem really happy. Then I wonder if I will be getting into a job like his and I will be unhappy. I do not want to upset him by talking with him and maybe making him unhappier. It kind of gets confusing. Can you give me some direction? I do not know you, but can you also tell me if you are happy being a pastor?
A: Would that we could all speak with each other with the candor and sensitivity that you display!
The church needs pastors who have the capacities that you show and can further develop. I am glad that you are considering the pastoral ministry.
Permit me to make a few suggestions about what you can do next.
- Consider that both of our seminaries have Web sites (www.csl.edu for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and www.ctsfw.edu for Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne) where you can find out about events for high school students. Plan to attend these events. They are oriented around some of the questions you have.
- Talk with your pastor as frankly as you can. Tell him that you are concerned that the pastoral ministry might not be a happy place. Let him know your concerns and listen to his responses. The reality is that if a pastor is close to his people, he will hurt for them, sigh with them, and walk arm-in-arm with them. This is stressful, but a necessary and actually rewarding part of ministry. Ask him what his stressors and his joys are in ministry.
- See if you can shadow your pastor for a while. Perhaps he can take you on a pastoral call or two, or let you see how he prepares for his sermons. This way you can begin to get a sense of what the ministry is about.
- Ask your dad or your pastor for the names of some other pastors in your area, contact them, and then interview them. Tell them that you want a frank conversation about both the joys and the struggles of the pastoral ministry. This way, you will be able to get a number of different perspectives on being a pastor.
- Continue to foster your own personal spiritual growth. Studying the Scriptures helps us both learn and work on confusing things. Remain active in hearing God’s Word and receiving Holy Communion.
- Finally, keep your parents in the loop. They can be of help in your thinking about this, but it is also good for them to know where you are “at.”
You asked whether I am happy being a pastor.
Since I am on the faculty of one of the LCMS seminaries, I am not a parish pastor. So my answer might not be as directly on-target for you as talking with others who are pastors of congregations. Still, you have a right to an answer. The answer is “mostly, but not always.”
There are pieces of my life as a pastor/seminary professor that are quite satisfying, and others that are not so satisfying, and even others that are actually troubling. But I really believe that life is like that. In an imperfect world, there are always struggles. I expect them and pray for the strength to treat them as opportunities for my own spiritual growth and for service. The joy is that Christ holds me to Himself and is my ever-present leader and brother, as He is to you and all who believe in Him.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Feb. 5, 2007