I get asked this question often, and I was inevitably asked this question during my Michigan District interview as part of the process in applying for the LCMS seminary. When it comes down to it, I really just have a simple answer: Because of Jesus.
Of course, that’s not a satisfactory answer for one probing at the reason why this is my passion, so I’m forced to expound on my answer. To others, it might seem like this is the answer the Michigan District interviewers wanted to hear, but that’s not the reason for my answer.
Although we often place pastors upon a pedestal, the pastoral office is not some glorious position to seek praise, honour, and glory. All that belongs to Christ alone. Pastors might have greater responsibility than his congregational members and are thus held to a higher standard (James 3:1), but that does not mean he’s been placed in a greater position of holiness or that he somehow has direct access to God. (Besides, we all have direct access to God through prayer.) That’s the whole point of the shirt and collar he wears: the black clothing to show that the pastor is still a sinner, and the white collar by his throat to symbolise that he proclaims the Word of God. The pastor’s role is to bring to the Gospel to the Church in Word and Sacrament. To non-Lutheran ears, what this means is that the pastor brings the Gospel to the Church by preaching and teaching the Gospel of His Word—particularly forgiveness of sins by faith (i.e. justification)—and bringing forgiveness to the Church in the sacraments. Of course, there are additional responsibilities placed upon him such as spiritual counseling and church administration, but Word and Sacrament are his chief concerns.
What does this have to do with me seeking the pastoral office? It has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with Christ and His people. When the Michigan District interviewers asked me why I want to be a pastor, I read Philippians 1:23-24, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” My biggest desire is to be with Jesus. In all honesty, I would much rather be with Him than here, because to be with Him is literally a much better place to be. Yet Christ has indwelled in me the desire to remain here for the sake of His people. I have a passion for biblical truth and the God-given gift of relaying that biblical truth to God’s people in an understandable way, so it is my desire to remain here and bring the Gospel to people.
Everywhere I look, I see brokenness in the world. I see broken people with broken actions and broken responses to the world’s evil because we are all broken in sin. The earth, likewise, is corrupt with sin and is falling apart. It’s not because I may be a pessimist or a cynic. Rather, it is because I recognise the reality of our situation, and the remedy to our situation is Jesus Christ. For some reason, He has chosen me to impart His Word to His people so that they may be prepared to go out and gather people into the Church.
A large majority of the book of Romans reveals to us our brokenness, particularly 1:18-32. Chapters 2 and 3 also reveal how broken we are, and then chapters 4-8 follow the pattern of the salvation we have through faith releasing us from the Law as heirs of Christ. Chapters 1-3 of Romans are heavy with Law, and for a reason. Paul is making it real to us the curse of sin that is upon us. However, directly before verse 18 of chapter 1 he says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (1:16-17).
Lutherans recognise this passage as Martin Luther’s “Aha!” moment. As a Roman Catholic monk, Luther struggled a lot with his condition as a sinner. The doctrine of the Medieval Catholic Church at the time was—and is—that even though the eternal consequences of sin were forgiven, the temporal consequences of sin remain. So they enacted the sacrament of penance: confession, contrition, and satisfactions. The confessor has to first confess every single sin they’ve committed (for those they cannot recall, they pay for in Purgatory), they have to possess real contrite and sorrow for their sin (or at least wish they were contrite), and after being forgiven they have to perform certain works for their sins in order to pay for their sins in order for forgiveness to have its full effect. This places forgiveness upon the works of the person rather than faith in Christ.
As a Roman Catholic monk, Luther feared that this self-justification was never enough, he doubted his personal holiness, he was skeptical of his motives for praying, he questioned the sincerity of his charity, and he always wondered if he has truly ever repented or just spoke empty words in his confessions. It is no wonder that he was so distraught. How can a sinner ever do anything to be worthy before God? He can’t, not by his works alone. This lack of assurance deeply troubled Luther. Then he read Romans 1:16-17. He read verse 17 and suddenly realised, “Aha! No amount of good works make us righteous. We are righteous by faith.” In Greek, the “righteousness of God” is what’s called the genitive of possession, meaning the person or thing has ownership of something. In this case, the ownership of righteousness is God and God alone. The Bible never uses the genitive of possession in regards to humans having righteousness this way. It says we have no righteousness of our own; indeed, it is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). As the owner of righteousness, God imputes this righteousness to us. How? “From faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:17). So the book of Romans—indeed, all of Scripture—brings to reality our brokenness in sin, but His Word also reveals to us who fixes our brokenness: Jesus Christ, who justifies us by faith (Romans 5:1).
So, I want to be a pastor because as we live in a broken world, it is God’s desire to use me to bring the remedy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into peoples’ lives. I want to be a pastor because of what Jesus has done for us.