Letters to My Younger Self – The Golden Triangle

July 26, 2001

Dear Me, Hope you’re well today. I am sure you are having fun helping a few guys clear the trees out at the church property this week. Good thing you aren’t allergic to poison ivy (at least that we know of). Be sure to take good care of the Bimmer. She throws a rod around mile 194,000 so if you can be a bit proactive on maintenance I’m hoping we can prevent that. We both know you also want to be a race-car driver so I’m not holding out hope that you will listen.

What I do want you to listen about has more to do with your vocation than your car. Take a few minutes and get a notebook (if you really want to be ahead of the hip crowd pick up one of these) and write down in three words a description of what a pastor should give himself to. What did you write down?

Knowing you, I am going to guess you’ve written down “teaching, leadership, planning.” Not bad. However, the trend of the ministerial and church culture lately would have you write down something like “candles, conversation, and contemplation.” Good try by both sides but everybody here is wrong. Mostly.

If you picked up any of those Peterson books I recommended last week you will have found him talking about the three essential things to pastoral vocation. I like to call them the Pastoral Golden Triangle. The Triangle consists of prayer, scripture and people. Those are the three words that define what a pastor should daily give himself to.

Prayer: addressing yourself to God and asking Him to intercede in grace for yourself, your people, your city and the world. Please don’t believe that you have any ability or power to change the hearts and lives of the people in your ministry. Spiritual transformation happens only by spiritual means. Prayer is that means. Take note that the Apostles clearly saw fifty percent of their work being bound up in prayer (Acts 6:4). The pastoral work is prayer.

Scripture: giving God room to speak His Word into your life and your ministry. Much of the problem with church these days is that everyone wants to talk and write and be experts on growth and groups and strategies and paradigms and so on and so forth. Nobody wants to be quiet and listen to The Word. Much of the trouble in American Christianity is an authority problem, namely that we don’t want to submit ourselves to the authority of the God and what He has said in His Word. So we’re stupid chatterboxes that think we know it all.

Be different. Give your life to listening to God from His Word. Give your life to understanding it well. Then humbly, boldly, clearly tell others what He says. Some will ridicule study and original languages and theology as nerd-work for the geeks who don't know how to relate to real people and scholars. Some will say we need to be people of action and drive and doing things. Listen to the Voice that says “blessed is the man… whose delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1). Eat the Book, and let it be a fire in your bones.

People: giving yourself to relationships of teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, encouragement, counsel and service (2 Timothy 3:16–17)). Link your prayers for people and your exposure to Scripture with people. Spend time praying with people. Give yourself to talking about God’s Word with people. Intersect God with people by means of prayer, Scripture and your presence with them in that. You don’t have to know it all, in fact don’t even pretend you do. Let God’s Word form the agenda for their life. When you don’t know what to do with people, pray with them.

I know the counsel in this letter sounds very rudimentary. You’ll be tempted to flashier methods and programs. Pastoral vocation though is nothing without The Golden Triangle. Don’t sell your soul for the glitter of the age (and another dumb conference of “how-to’s”). Prayer, Scripture, People. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit will show up in profound ways as you minister within these three.

Your Older, Still-Learning Self, Jeremy