I written before about the impact Eugene Peterson's book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, has had on my ministry. In the book he mentions that while pastors are judged by their people for the visible tasks of ministry, the most important tasks are those that are often not seen by others. These are what he calls the angles of ministry, and only when the angles are right can we do ministry with integrity. These angles are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.
Although this book has influenced me, like many pastors I sometimes get so busy with the visible tasks that I find it easy to neglect the angles, and God has to remind me again of what is most important. He did this recently when I was reading an article that asked "What is the most important thing a pastor can do for his or her congregation?" The answer was to pray for them.
I often find that when God speaks it's not long until I have the opportunity to respond. A few days after reading that question and answer an individual approached me at a store and shared a private prayer concern and asked me to pray for their family. That evening I began to pray about their situation, and as I prayed I began thinking about others in our church family that needed prayer. I began to pray for them as well, and then I thought of a recent tragedy in our community and began to pray for the family affected by it.
My primary spiritual gifts are preaching, teaching, and leadership. I am working in my natural giftedness when I'm involved in any of these tasks. You'll immediately notice that these are all ministry tasks that are done in public. The angles Peterson talks about do not come natural to me. In fact, at times I can become jealous when I read about some of the saints of old who spent hours each day in prayer or in the study of Scripture. But, just because these do not come natural to me does not mean that they are less important nor does it mean that I can ignore them. It does mean that I must discipline myself to ensure that I do pray for those I serve, that I do spend time in the Scriptures, and that I am involved in giving spiritual direction.
This also means the pastor must spend time with the people in order to know how to best pray for them. The pastor who never leaves the office can only pray in generalities, and that's not enough.
I love to talk to people about God, but I think Peterson would argue that it's more important to talk to God about the people. And, I think he's right.