These days pastoral ministry has become more glamorous, fabulous, fashionable than ever. We hear nowadays of pastors driving expensive cars or being chauffeured, owning private jets, and living in opulent mansions. Once only the “prosperity preachers” and bona fide hucksters touted such lives; now your neighborhood “orthodox” super-pastor does the same. It’s all so pretty, perfumed with the world’s “best” of everything.
Pastoral ministry has lost its wilderness motif. She is no longer invested and involved in that labor of caring, shepherding, and defending the sheep. Pastors no longer live among the sheep for their sake, rather, they prefer the green pastures of the golf course, or spending time with the elite membership. Baxter would be shocked! How much time do we spend with your people? Do we smell like them? Do we stink because of their problems? Do our clerical clothes smell like their cigarettes? Thabiiti writes:
The apostle understands that shepherds should smell like sheep. The sheep’s wool should be lint on our clothes. Our boots should be caked with their mud and their mess. Our skin ought to bear teeth marks and the weather-beaten look of exposure to wind, sun, and rain in the fields. We belong among the people to such an extent that they can be called on to honestly testify that our lives as messengers commend the message. We should be so frequently among them that we smell like them, that we smell like their real lives, sometimes fragrant but more often sweaty, musty, offensive, begrimed from battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
What used to be a foundational feature of the pastoral ministry has now become a forgotten tradition. Perhaps we ought to smell ourselves at the end of our weeks, and ask whether our clothes have the scent of our people, whether they are messy from those long pastoral trips, whether they are stained from coffee, and whether they reflect the shepherd’s calling.
There are profound dangers in the “pastor as academician” phenomenon. All pastors are scholars, but all pastors must use their scholarship to comfort, encourage, rebuke, exhort, and love their people. Scholarship apart from the stinkiness of pastoral ministry is an unused scholarship.
So have we identified ourselves with our people? Do they know us? Do they know we care for them? What is our boast? Is it in the well-delivered homily? In our power and giftedness? If so, we need to change our clothes and put on those well-worn garments of a shepherd and truly cherish the aroma of pastoral ministry. As Thabiti concludes:
Brothers, we are shepherds down in the fields of life — and we should stink.