The Public Face of Ministry and the Private Heart of the Pastor: Are they the same?

The semester is winding down. The calls are being processed for our seniors. The first year is coming to a close to our beginning students and self-assessment is need. Our middlers face the reality that they are now stepping up to the plate as the senior class. The old long season is coming to an end and spring has arrived. It is, yet, another time of change that is here and that is on its way again.

Yet the constancy of God is our stronghold throughout all of life. This is what the Psalmist prayed:

“But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge” (Psalms 94.22).

If we join in this Psalm, we are refreshed to see how David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, reflected on how the  LORD, the covenant God,

“has become my stronghold (misgab) and my God the rock of my refuge.”

Such language reveals this man’s life, his hidden life, and we might understand also his public life, being formed, against all of the prevailing winds blown by the devil, the flesh and the world, as he secures himself in the storm on the truths of God. He does this, over and over throughout all of life,  to the degree that God “has become,” his stronghold, that is, God, through the process of sanctification, has now formed in him. He may now write his Psalm to others. For God has written His covenant love in him. His private life is shaping his public face.

It is easy to begin to have a personality or self-identity as “seminary student” or “clergyman” so that our identities are formed through our public persona. We preach, we teach, we minister to others, and their response further shapes that public person. But is that how we should be formed? The man or woman who depends on the world’s approval will meet with sorrow. Calvin thus wrote of this text:

“The world’s comforts give little delight to the soul, when hurried with melancholy thoughts; but God’s comforts bring that peace and pleasure which the smiles of the world cannot give, and which the frowns of the world cannot take away” (Commentary on the Psalms, Psalm 94).

Depending on the world’s accolades and approval (or supposing, like the little donkey on Palm Sunday might have mistakenly thought, that the genuine “Hosannas!” of the saints are for you, and not for their Lord) will lead to spiritual malignancies in the man or woman of God, and particularly the pastor of God’s flock. The results of this malignancy of the soul are many and are destructive. We need to be shaped (for the text says that the LORD “has become”) over time, even over a lifetime, of walking with God in private devotions. I pray that you know that covenant love of Christ, implanted in God’s very name, as you seek God in secret, adoring Him, confessing your sins, thanking Him, and lifting up the Church and the World of sinners before Him. In this way, our Savior and our Lord becomes our stronghold and rock of refuge in every season, in every change. Then, through this sanctifying process, are we able to stand and say, “thus sayeth the Lord.” And our lives will be formed by the Cross; and our public and private face of ministry will be the same.

May the Lord bless you and keep you now and throughout all of the days of your life and may you know God as your stronghold and the rock of your refuge.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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