What a Pastor's Heart Really Looks Like

A pastor's heart is one of mercy, as Jesus showed us on the cross. (Gerd Altman via Pixabay.com)

A young pastor who wonders if he is out of place trying to lead a church sent me a note the other day. With the constant demands upon his time and the unending situations which call for infinite wisdom, divine patience and supernatural strength, he's feeling like the fellow who was eaten alive by a school of minnows.

He wonders if he's cut out to be a pastor.

He said, "I hear people talking about those who have the heart of a pastor. What exactly is that?"

Great question.

Perhaps it's like the fellow said of art (and a lot of other things!): "I can't define it but I know it when I see it."

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My friend, Chris, was grieving over the loss of their church's associate minister and his family, who had moved to another church several states away. In the church hallway, as she and a staff member passed, the minister said, "Good morning, Chris. How are you today?"

Chris burst into tears.

With that, the minister pulled up a chair and gave Chris the next 30 minutes of her day. In telling me about it—and expressing her wonder at such sensitivity and kindness from the staff member—Chris said, "They must teach this in the seminary."

I assured her they do not. It's what a pastor's heart looks like.

I'm tempted to say that one either has a pastor's heart or doesn't. But it's probably not that harsh. The Lord who specializes in giving new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) can surely tweak the spirit of a willing servant to make it more loving and gracious.

Rudy French, a preacher friend, was on a mission trip to Korea. He told me what happened ...

"I was teaching a cell group composed of young mothers. At the end of the session a lady asked if I would pray for her friend's 3-year-old daughter who had a brain disorder. I started to pray and she interrupted to ask me to wait. She wanted to call the mother and have her bring the child to me.

"When they arrived, we all circled the child and placed our hands on her. I began by saying, 'Lord, you know a mother's heart.' And at that moment, something quite unexpected happened.

"All the young mothers in the group began crying. I mean, they were sobbing and pleading with God to help this child. I too began to weep and could not speak at all.

"For the next five minutes, we all just cried together for the plight of this young mother. When I could finally speak, I simply said, 'Amen.'

"God does know a mother's heart and now I think, so do I."

Perhaps that's as good a definition as any: a pastor's heart is the heart of a mother.

No one better exemplifies the heart of a pastor than the Lord Jesus Himself.

Overlooking Jerusalem, He thought of the awful fate awaiting these very people. He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37).

Jesus had a mother's heart.

Within one generation, Jerusalem would be destroyed, every building demolished, the Temple in ruins. Worse, many of the people would die of starvation or in battle. Jesus wept over the city (Luke 19:14).

I suspect that many a church in our land is led by those without such a compassionate heart. They would have said to the Lord, "Jerusalem has brought this on herself. She knew what she was doing. She deserves the judgment she's getting."

They call this living in the real world. A better term for it is rank heathenism.

My friend Tobin Perry says, "The pastor's heart is the heart of a shepherd. He has a special sensitivity for two groups: those not in the fold (the unbelievers) and those straggling inside the fold (wayward believers)."

Jesus had such a shepherd's heart. When a Samaritan village would not allow the Lord and the disciples to enter, James and John said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them, as Elijah did?" Jesus rebuked them, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of! For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:51-56).

Among the leadership of many churches today, you will find the sons of James and John. "Those welfare queens and drug pushers ought to be nuked. They don't deserve anything from the good people. I'm opposed to our church handing out groceries to the poor and the deadbeats. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us."

They call it being responsible citizens. Rather, it's hard-heartedness, perhaps even a form of cruelty.

A mother's heart. A shepherd's heart. The Savior's heart.

What do they have in common?

Mercy.

It's all about mercy, friend.

Once, sitting across the breakfast table from Dottie Rambo (and her husband Buck), that champion of song-writers and renowned singer in her own right, I asked which of her songs had been most used of the Lord. "That one's easy," she smiled. "He looked beyond my fault and saw my need."

That's all about mercy. It's what a mother does, it's what drives a shepherd, and thank God! it's what the Lord poured out on you and me. (Titus 3:5)

Mercy is the quality of seeing someone in a mess of his/her own creation and having your heart break for them.

"Mercy triumphs over judgement" (James 2:13).

Clyde Walker wrote a hymn which formed part of the background music of my childhood. From seventy years back, I can still hear the Chuckwagon Gang singing, "Justice Calls, But Mercy Answers." (It's on youtube.)

The heart of a pastor? In one word: Mercy.

In two words: Jesus Christ.

"Father, let me not try to minister to Thy people without the tender heart of a faithful pastor. Otherwise, I will bruise the sheep. Amen."

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing, and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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