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The Inner Man of Pastors: Six Glimpses into God’s Design

“Men cannot do the one thing most necessary and most miraculous in our existence . . .”

It’s an arresting claim, and warranted. And all of us, women and men, congregants and pastors, mothers and fathers, will do well to take note. So, what is this most necessary and miraculous ability?

The author, pastor Kevin DeYoung, continues,

Men . . . will not nurture life in the womb; they will not give birth to the propagation of the species; they will not nurse an infant from their own flesh.

Women have wombs. Men do not. And it’s no isolated feature, but one of the most stubborn, obvious manifestations of the glorious God-designed differences between men and women that run from head to toe, from physiology to psychology. First, God had his design and plan, then he built men and women accordingly. That is, with their shared and complementary callings in view, God constructed the first man and later his wife. And his design and building of men and women is not limited to their bodies, but extends, fittingly, to their psyches, or souls.

With the bodily ability to gestate, give birth to, and nourish new human life comes natural domestic proclivities and graces. With men’s taller, stronger, faster, womb-less bodies comes a kind of steadiness. Men do not experience in their own bodies the glorious interruptions of periods and pregnancy and childbirth and nursing. God designed men to venture out first from the home, to shoulder the greater risks, to bear the heavier burdens of protection and provision, and when necessary to engage in combat. Technology might give us guns to equalize women’s bodies against men, but technology cannot alter the God-fixed capacities of the soul, whether for war or for being mom.

God built women, not men, to be mothers. And God built men, not women, to be pastors. And this line of work — unlike athletics, farming, and war — puts the emphasis especially on the soul.

Souls of Grown Men

Fitted to the man’s calling, God built men’s souls with particular capacities to rise to external challenges, address community-wide obstacles, make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole family and society, draw other men into the mission, and think for, care for, provide for, and protect the whole for the long haul. God made the souls of men to rise to the severest of threats, endure the sharpest of criticisms, and bear up, sometimes for painfully long seasons, under great duress. And to raise a hand, or sword, against a foe, not for sport but for the safety of family and friends.

If someone responds, “Well, I know all sorts of men whose inner person does not seem to be rugged and resilient; I know men who are manifestly more weak-souled than their wives,” my answer would be, Of course, I know of them as well. But men who are immature and ill-formed, due to sin, are not examples of divine design (or models to follow). The fact remains: God made men with the particular capacity to rise to this calling. Not all women yet have enough maturity of their female psyche to be worthy mothers, but that doesn’t mean that a mature man should try to be mom. Nor that mature women should try to be pastors.

In saying “the particular capacity to rise to this calling,” we note the plasticity of men’s souls (that is, their minds, emotions, and wills) to grow and develop over time, and in doing so become more masculine, and fit to their calling. God made men for this, but they don’t come turnkey. As the body needs growth and conditioning, so too the inner man needs forming.

Glimpses of a Manly Soul

Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 serves as a remarkable window — from one mature man, and apostle, to a team of mature men, and local church elders — into how God built men to be pastors. Consider six such glimpses of the mature man’s inner man in Paul’s charge to the pastors.

1. Self-Sacrifice for the Whole Flock

We see Paul’s own self-sacrifice in his willingness, even eagerness, to risk his life “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), as well as in his expending his own time, energy, and strength in “working hard” to “help the weak” (Acts 20:35). Paul gives of himself; he pours out his own life to give life to others. He expects the same of the elders.

“Good mothers sacrifice themselves for their children; good men sacrifice themselves for women and children, and other men.”

Now, mothers do this too, for their children. It is not self-sacrifice that is uniquely masculine but self-sacrifice for the whole, or as Paul says in verse 28 for “all the flock.” God designed an order to the self-sacrifice that gives and sustains life among his people. We rightly do not expect women to sacrifice themselves for men. Good mothers sacrifice themselves for their children; good men sacrifice themselves for women and children, and for other men. And the self-sacrifice of men for the whole flock, according to nature, empowers women to self-sacrifice for their children.

2. Public Teaching of the Whole Flock

Today we often focus on the glory of public teaching, on the platform, in the moment, but overlook the immediate and long-term costs to the faithful public preaching and teaching of God’s word.

Again, that important phrase “all the flock” is in view. We are not talking here about all teaching. In some sense, all Christians teach (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:12). And mature women teach — specifically, younger women to their children, and older women to the younger women (Titus 2:3–5), as well as men in private settings (Acts 18:26). But the public teaching of “all the flock” — including women, children, and fellow men — God expects of men. And he designed their souls specifically with the capacity to grow into this mantle, and take the criticisms that come with it, and endure in it, even thrive in it, not for a moment or spurts but over time. Which relates to the next glimpse.

3. Declare Hard Words and Call for Repentance

Such public teaching of God’s word, while appearing to be mainly privilege to some eyes, can be a heavy burden and responsibility — that is, when preaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not just the parts that go down easy in this generation. Twice in Acts 20 (verses 20–21 and 27) Paul testifies to “not shrinking from declaring” because he felt a real temptation to shrink back. How many pastors today, tragically, do shrink from declaring God’s “whole counsel”?

But God built the souls of men to be able to rise to such a burden, and gladly bear the weight of publicly, courageously, and carefully declaring hard words (Acts 20:20) — and calling for repentance (Acts 20:21). Elsewhere Paul refers to such exhorting and charging as fatherly, rather than motherly. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul speaks of his motherly heart for the church and eagerness to give his own self to nurse it. Then just two sentences later, he mentions his words of challenge as fatherly: “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12).

Lest we fall into narrow stereotypes, both the beginning and end of Paul’s speech (Acts 20:18–19, 36–28) are not ruggedly masculine (in caricature) but express virtues that many might think of as more feminine. He mentions serving “with tears” while among them, and kneels to pray with them, weeps with them, and receives their embraces and kisses — and then, in a more manifestly masculine act, the pastors accompany their dearly loved brother to the ship to send him off to the certain conflict and suffering that await.

Christianity is a teaching movement, requiring its pastors and elders to say clearly what it is and is not, what it espouses and does not, what are its ethics and not. That requires the cutting of distinct, sharp lines on the issues that are most offensive and embattled in every age. The setting of such boundaries is masculine work — not that women are unable to do it, but God built the souls of men to rise to this, and thrive in this, over the long haul.

4. Persist in Daily Vigilance

Acts 20 is one place, among others (2 Timothy 4:2, 5), where the apostles call for particular alertness, daily vigilance, and “not ceasing night or day” in the formal leaders of the church. “Be alert,” Paul says in Acts 20:31, “remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” While calling all the flock to readiness for his return, Christ himself acknowledged the challenges to being “always ready” that come with the glorious dynamics of childbearing (“Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” Matthew 24:19; Mark 13:17; Luke 21:23).

God chose to couple glorious dynamics of body and soul with the rhythms of pregnancy, birth, and nursing. And in complement to these dynamics, God designed men’s bodies and souls for steady-state, less dynamic persistence. We might even say, “the far more boring” bodies and souls of men — leading to a fifth glimpse.

5. Combat Wolves Without and Within

God built men with bodies and souls primed to be conditioned for combat. Note well: training is required. Just because a man is grown doesn’t mean he is ready for battle. Strength, skill, and stamina need development. Combat makes requirements of the body and psyche. And men need to learn when to attack (and not), and whom to combat (and not), and how to attack (and not), as well as ready themselves for the emotional toll of war.

Paul warned the Ephesian pastors that wolves were coming for their flock — from without and from within. “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30). God made the souls of men in particular to rise to the unpleasant and essential work of protecting the flock from wolves, with its emotional and physical costs.

Now, professing Christians and churches who do not believe in the existence of wolves — or in divine judgment and eternal hell and total depravity — will not find “combating wolves” to be a compelling reason for the calling of men to the office of pastor-elder. But Paul believed in wolves. Jesus believed in wolves (Matthew 7:15; Luke 10:3). If we take the Scriptures seriously, we too might see that the threat of false teaching, and the necessity of pastors protecting the sheep from wolves, perhaps shows plainest of all God’s building of men for the pastorate. God made men to be conditioned for this calling.

6. Embrace the Most Threatening Risks

In places where Christianity is not outlawed, and its leaders do not face immediate risks to persecution and death, we might soon forget that the church’s formal leaders are typically its first martyrs. To be an officer in the early church was less a privilege to enjoy and more a risk to embrace. The pastor-elders were marked men when persecution arose. And so it is today in some places in the world.

God made men to put themselves forward as enemy targets, to be the ones who take not only the lash of criticism but also the first literal lashes of persecution when they come.

We glimpse such holy masculinity in the apostle when he declares, “Now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22–23). Many valiant Christian women have risen to, and would rise to, embrace persecution for the name of Christ. And God built men, and pastors in particular, to put themselves forward for the first attacks.

Give It Time

We could name other distinctively masculine traits, even in Acts 20, but let’s leave it at six for now, and conclude with just a brief word about ability, which is often a flashpoint in these discussions. Some today are quick to emphasize what some women are able to do, and often better than some men: women can take risks, women can take initiative, women can teach in public, women can say hard things and address error and call for repentance, women can embrace suffering for the name of Christ and good of his church.

“Preaching is not for all men, nor for most men, but this work and calling is for men.”

Such discussions often have a momentary focus: in any given moment, a woman can prep and give a sermon, take on a threat, confront an error. But what’s typically lacking is the broadening of our considerations from what’s possible in a moment to what’s fitting for the long haul. She may well be able to do what’s required of pastors in a day, or for a few weeks or months, perhaps even a few years, but will she really do it ably, and thrive, with joy, for years, for decades, for a lifetime? Is it fitting to her nature as God designed it?

God built the souls of men with the capacities to rise to the calling of the pastor-elders, and even thrive in it, over the long haul. Pastoring is not for all men, nor even for most men, but this work and calling is for men. Long before Christ put it in the mouths of his apostles, he wove it into the fabric of his creation, including our bodies and souls. And if we don’t find nature’s teaching convincing enough, that’s no grounds for overturning Scripture’s.

God built men to be pastors.

Credit: David Mathis

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