“Cat-Herding” & “Whack-A-Mole” Ministry

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season… do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV))

There are a lot of ways to describe pastoral ministry.  Even the Presbyterian Church has spilled a lot of ink to describe this job.  we are “teaching elders” as opposed to “ruling elders.”  The Book of Order for the Presbyterian Church, restoring the language of the 1789 Presbyterian Government, described the role of minister in its various capacities saying:

As he or she has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he or she is termed bishop. As he or she feeds them with spiritual food, he or she is termed pastor.  As a servant of Christ in the Church, the term minister is given. As it is his or her duty to be grave and prudent, and an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he or she is termed presbyter or elder.  As he or she is sent to declare the will of God to sinners, and to beseech them to be reconciled to God, through Christ, he or she is termed ambassador.  And as he or she dispenses the manifold grace of God and the ordinances instituted by Christ, he or she is termed steward of the mysteries of God.

Beautiful, right?!

I, in my 10 years of ministry experience, have come up with two more analogies that I think are helpful in getting sharing the idea of what it’s like be a pastor:

As he is called to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching, he is called “Cat-herder.”  As he is called to confront heresy, he is called “Whack-A-Moler.” (I’m sure these were also considered back in 1789, but accidentally omitted in the final record.)

The greatest exercise in futility is the attempt to train a cat.  People don’t own cats, they share houses with them, they are tolerated by them, they may even call their cats cute names, but they certainly don’t own them.  So the idea of actually training a cat to do anything that it didn’t already want to do is ridiculous. 

Are we the same way with church?  Please know, I do not have the church I’m currently serving in mind, but I think we all have this attitude toward the church now and then.  We come to church with our established ideas about what church should be, what God expects of us, and how long the service should last.  The pastor shares the church, and may even be tolerated for a while, but watch out if he should try to lead in a direction that we don’t already want to go.  The pastor may exhort and encourage in the life of discipleship, but only if we are already inclined to go down that path.

As the pastor is called to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), he is called the “whack-a-moler.”  You know the game; there you stand, soft mallet in hand, beating down the moles as they keep popping up all over the board.

For a pastor, this seems to be a daily routine.  I have to admit, there are times when you wish the office of minister came with a padded mallet for moments of gentle rebuke and correction – but alas – it’s not to be.  But the moles are definitely there.  One heresy rears its ugly head and you smack it back down, only to have two more spring up elsewhere.  Either it’s a theologically vapid book that captures the attention of your congregation, undoing 5 years of preaching in 2 days reading, or it’s the pastor of the church your congregation member has attended who taught on Sunday that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you have a relationship with him. 

Sigh.  There are days when truck driving school seems really enticing.  Then we come across Paul’s encouragement to Timothy.  This is Paul and Timothy here.  These were the All-Stars of Pastoral Ministry, the trailblazers who set the standard; and Paul says, “Listen, Tim, you’ve got to just keep on preaching on.  People aren’t going to listen to you, just like they wouldn’t listen to me, just like they wouldn’t listen to our Lord.  They will keep looking around until they find someone who teaches them what they already know, who says what they like to hear.  You can’t help that.  But you can keep preaching.  Keep teaching.  Keep doing the work that God has called you to, keep doing what the Spirit has given you.”

I don’t know, I guess it’s kind of encouraging.  This struggle against stiff necks and recalcitrant hearts has been going on for a while now.  There are no new heresies under the sun, just a repackaging of the same old stuff.  If Paul and Timothy, Peter and James, and all the rest had to struggle against these things, I’m not alone in the fight.  Even the sin I struggle against in my own life, that old creeper who keeps dragging me down, isn’t that what Romans 7 is all about? 

I don’t have to wage the good warfare or stand firm in my own strength, neither do you.  Rather, we can rest in the power of God’s Spirit, rely on His truth to prevail.  And so we do not lose heart (2 Cor 4:1).  It may be that you’ve begged your husband to come to worship with you, and he just won’t budge; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.  It may be that you’ve wrestled with that sin before, and it’s frustrating that it keeps coming back to haunt you; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.  It may be that you’re tired of teaching again and again about how freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin and you want to throw in the towel; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.

In the famous words of uncle Mordecai, “who knows, but that you were born for such a time as this.”  This is your calling, fulfill your ministry. 

The Lord be with your spirit.  Grace be with you.

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