Ten commandments for pastors
You shall not separate what you do from who you are.
Woe to the pastor whose work seems to put him at odds with living as a Christian.
Blessed is the pastor whose work does not get in the way of living Christianly.
You shall not be tempted to act like a god before the admiring credulity of the people.
Woe to the pastor who flees the shining face of God for a slithery world of religion that gives her license to manipulate people and acquire godlike attributes to herself.
Blessed is the pastor who delights in the presence of the Lord, for that is the one place where she is sure to be exposed if she is pretending to be godlike.
You shall not glamorize the congregation, for there are no wonderful congregations and all congregations are congregations of sinners.
Woe to the pastor who thinks his vocation is a glamorous vocation, for he will experience much discontentment.
Blessed is the pastor who recognizes that pastoral work is like farm work; it is similar to cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds.
You shall take a vow of stability and stay put, for the congregation is not a job site to be abandoned when a better offer comes along.
Woe to the pastor who abandons her congregation for another out of boredom, anger or restlessness, for such behaviour vitiates the pastoral vocation.
Blessed is the pastor who stays put for the pastoral vocation has to do with living out the implications of the Word of God in community, not sailing off into exotic seas of religion in search of fame and fortune.
You shall not indulge in ecclesiastical pornography by glamorizing or despising the congregation.
Woe to the pastor who tries to avoid the conditions of his workplace by repudiating it.
Blessed is the pastor who accepts the conditions of his workplace, for ordinary congregations are God’s choice for the form the church takes in the world.
You shall not collaborate with the enemy by offering a religion that is mostly entertainment with occasional breaks for moral commercials.
Woe to the pastor who starts making deals, packaging the God-product so that people will be attracted to it and presenting it in ways that will beat out the competition.
Blessed is the pastor who refuses to be a branch manager in a religious warehouse outlet, marketing God to religious consumers.
You shall embrace a life of prayer, so that you can experience God’s control when you are out of control in the storm and in the belly of the whale.
Woe to the pastor who lets his vocation get in the way of God’s work, for such a vocation is simply a witness to God.
Blessed is the pastor who discovers that prayer is the single act that has to do with God; it is the essential action.
You shall say, “God,” personally, clearly, distinctly and unapologetically in all proclamations and prayers, for you have no other task but to draw the people’s attention to God.
Woe to the pastor who assumes that because every human being has a hunger for God that is deep and insatiable, they also have a desire for God.
Blessed is the pastor who pronounces the Name and names the common hunger of humanity for God.
You shall pray the Psalms daily for worship, for you need the replenishment of regular feeding on the Psalms.
Woe to the pastor whose life is prayerless and who has no bucket with which to draw water from the well of salvation.
Blessed is the pastor who uses the Psalms as a “bucket” prayed through monthly, whether he feels like it or not, for it keeps him in shape for a life of spirituality.
You shall take off your shoes before the Shekinah of the congregation, for it is topsoil seething with energy and organisms that have incredible capacities for assimilating death and participating in resurrection.
Woe to the pastor who sees the congregation as raw material for developing programs, for sooner or later she will be pushing and pulling, cajoling and seducing, persuading and selling.
Blessed is the pastor who treats the congregation with the patient devotion of a farmer cultivating a field rather than the impatience and violence of a developer building a shopping mall, for pastors are called to gently cultivate the congregation as a planting from God.
Raymond O. Bystrom is adjunct professor of pastoral ministry at MBBS-Langley and former professor of pastoral ministry at MBBS-Fresno. Raymond also pastored two MB congregations in B.C. in the 1980s. Raymond and his wife Elizabeth are currently members of Cedar Park Church, Delta, B.C.
*With thanks to Eugene Peterson from whose book, Under the Unpredictable Plant (Eerdmans, 1992), these statements were drawn and reshaped.
See also Raymond Bystrom’s article on retirement a theology of work: