Nine years ago, as a gift, my Dad gave me a copy of John Piper’s Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals. It was so helpful to me as I began pastoral ministry, setting the course for years to come. I’ve recommended it many, many times to pastors and aspiring pastors. The book contained 30 short chapters urging pastors to a radical, prayer-saturated, biblical, God-glorifying pastoral ministry. Piper lamented a kind of professionalism that had entered pastoral ministry. He wrote, “we pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet…. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.”
A New Professionalism
And now 10 years from writing, Piper has released an updated and expanded edition, which gives opportunity to reflect again on the professionalization of pastoral ministry and how it has changed over the last decade. Piper reflects on this in the preface to the new edition:
“Nothing has happened in the last ten years to make me think this book is less needed. In fact, instead of going away, the pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened. Among younger pastors the talk is less about therapeutic and managerial professionalization and more about communication or contextualization. The language of ‘professionalization’ is seldom used in these regards, but the quiet pressure felt by many pastors is: Be as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians.”
A new kind of professionalism has emerged in the last decade. The old professionalism wore a sharp-looking suit and was well-versed in business trends, management and marketing, the pastor as CEO. The new professionalism is an anti-professionalism. We reacted against the seeker-driven, suit-wearing, professionalism of the 90’s, with a cool, anti-professional, socially savvy swagger. We traded in business strategies for social media. We traded our suit in for some jeans. We traded in being professional for being cool. But being cool is just as dangerous as being professional. It feels different. It feels fresh and new, but it is just as stale and off-course.
Let’s admit it. We are proud to not be like the slick, professional pastor of our parents’ generation. But here’s the shocking truth: we are not that different. We haven’t outgrown the professionalism that plagued our parents’ generation, we simply gave it a makeover. One pastor looks to impress through sharp suits, knowledge of business culture, and marketing strategies. Another pastor looks to impress through rockstar dress, knowledge of pop culture and social media strategies. Same stuff, different pile. Brothers, we are not cool.
As Piper asks, “Is there professional praying? Professional trusting in God’s promises? Professional weeping over souls? Professional musing on the depths of revelation? Professional rejoicing in the truth? Professional praising God’s name? Professional treasuring the riches of Christ? Professional walking by the Spirit? Professional exercise of spiritual gifts? Professional dealing with demons? Professional pleading with backsliders? Professional perseverance in a hard marriage? Professional playing with children? Professional courage in the face of persecution? Professional patience with everyone?”
This is the heartbeat of biblical pastoral ministry and it’s neither hip nor professional. It has nothing to do with jeans or suits, business culture or pop culture. It has everything to do with a radical and humble pursuit of Christ, of loving and shepherding people in weakness.
The Death of Cool
The pursuit of the cool will kill our ministry. If appearing hip and popular is our goal, we will never pray. Prayer is never cool. We will not preach hard doctrines that flow against the current of our culture. There are certain truths which once uttered make you instantly unpopular. We will never humble ourselves, as humility stands opposite to the confident swagger of the trend setters.
Brothers, we are not cool. We are a stench to the perishing (2 Cor 2.16). We are called boast in the things that show our weakness rather than strength (2 Cor 11.30). We face insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities (2 Cor 12.10). If we are trying to please man, we are not servants of Christ (Gal 1.10). We know that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12). This is the radical difference between faithful pastoral ministry and the new professionalism. Faithful, obedient gospel ministry will never be seen as hip and cool.
I do believe we need to engage culture, to understand the times, to create a welcoming church culture, to dress and speak in a way that is understandable to our culture for the sake of evangelism. However, we are not cool, nor should we aim to be.