Once a month, I have the great privilege of meeting with a number of extremely wise and godly ministers alongside of whom I minister in the PCA. We either discuss a topic or share with one another certain things that are going on in life or ministry. Recently, we shared with one another the ways in which we have learned to deal with discouragement in ministry. Here are a few takeaways from our time together:
1. We must remember that we need to be sanctified. Just as we often say that marriage helps us recognize our need for sanctification in areas that we might not otherwise see, so too in pastoral ministry. When the hardships and trials come, we must remember that we need to be sanctified in certain areas of our lives that we might not see, were the trials and challenges not there. For instance, pastors might not realize sinful anger that remains in their hearts until some unjust action takes place in the church and that anger begins to well up within. Pastors may not recognize their need to listen better or communicate better until some issue arises that helps them see their own sinful deficiencies. God may have placed this trial or challenge in your ministry to sanctify you as a pastor.
2. We must remember that we need to grow in wisdom. Just as we need sanctification, pastors need wisdom. A faithful pastor will want to grow as a wise shepherd of the flock. Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom above everything else because he wanted to pastor God’s people with great skill (1 Kings 3:6-9). I have, many times, gone to older and wiser men for counsel as I face trials and challenges in ministry; and, I hope that, to some degree, I am growing in wisdom as I press through one challenge and head into another. The experience gleaned from both successes and failures often brings with it a greater measure of wisdom. We learn this from the book of Ecclesiastes. There were things that Solomon learned from the experiences of life. Often the trials and challenges of ministry serve as the vehicle by which God grows ministers in wisdom.
3. We must remember that we are insufficient for ministry. The Apostle Paul repeatedly told the members of the church in Corinth that ministers are insufficient, in and of themselves, for ministry (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5: 12:9). This was necessary because there were certain “super apostles” who cast aspersions on the Apostle Paul were boasting as if they were sufficient. When trials and challenges come, ministers feel their own insufficiency. In the midst of challenges with congregants, ministers remember that they cannot change the hearts of the people to whom God has sent them to shepherd. In many cases, the only course of action in a particular trial is go to the throne of grace and plead with the Lord to bring whatever we are facing to a felicitous end.
4. We must remember our calling to ministry. When Timothy began to retreat from ministry, or act in fear, the Apostle Paul charged him to remember his ordination to ministry. In fact, he did it twice. In 1 Timothy 1:6, he wrote, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare;” and in 2 Tim. 1:18 he told Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Remembering that God has set us apart to pastor His people helps fan the flame of our zeal for ministry. This is essential for ministers to remember when the discouragements come in ministry. Knowing that God has called you into ministry enables you to keep going when things get tough.
5. We must remember that the particular church to which we have been called needs us to be faithful pastors. It has become almost cliche for ministers in Reformed churches to say things like, “Don’t think that God needs you for ministry. He can replace you with anyone He wants.” While this is absolutely true, it is just as right to say, “While God does not need you for ministry, the church to which you have been called does!” The Apostle Paul told the church in Philippi, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 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” (Phil. 1:22-24). This is one of the keys to contentment in ministry in whatever church in which you serve. Pastors must remember, when they faced ministry challenges, that the Lord has called them–and not another–to minister in just the right church, in just the right town at just the right time.
6. We must remember that we have been called to suffer. There is a solidarity that pastors have with the Lord Jesus, the Apostles and other faithful ministers who have suffered before them. The Apostles strengthened the members of the early church with the following words: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We should not be surprised when trials and challenges come because God has promised that we will suffer. In one of his most astonishing statement, the Apostle Paul, told the church in Colosse, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). In 2 Corinthians 1:6-7, Paul wrote, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
7. We must remember that we are in ministry to bring glory to Christ. The ultimate encouragement to help ministers press through the discouragements they experience when they face trials and challenges is that we were created, redeemed and called into ministry in order to bring glory to Christ. The cry of the ministers heart must ever be, “He must increase, I must decrease.” The ministries to which we have been called by God are not for our own glory. So often the discouragements that ministers feel are on account of a wrong view of ministry. A wise pastor once told me, “Too often, we think that we will be happy if we can get people to do what is right rather than simply being happy that we are doing what is right in order to bring glory to God. We do so while we recognize that only Jesus can bring about change in the lives of the members of the church or peace in whatever trial or challenge that we face.” We exist to bring glory to God through exalting the Lord Jesus Christ.