Pastoring

Faithfulness in Ministry

The dark side of talking about ministry in terms of faithfulness is that people can use it as an excuse for accountability and to justify a ministry style that is overly defensive, cautious, fearful, and perhaps even lazy and defeated. This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes Christian leaders hide their incompetence behind a smokescreen of ‘faithfulness’. Often what we call faithfulness isn’t faithfulness.

It’s worth double-checking to make sure that our faithfulness really is faithfulness and not self-deception. Faithfully preaching sermons week after week that are boring or unclear without taking steps to improve your preaching isn’t actually being faithful. Nor is faithfully doing the same things in the same way over and over again and never reaching anyone in the neighborhood around your church. Never trying to do anything better or differently is not being faithful.

Our job as Christian leaders is to faithfully do everything we can think of, taking some risks and enduring some pain, to explain the gospel, love people, and preach the whole counsel of God to everyone we can, as best we can. Genuine faithfulness isn’t a front for complacency or laziness. Faithfulness in doing everything God’s word requires of us is our job. Be faithful and God will help you. Then let him do his job. Let him focus on the results.

You focus on doing your job and let God do what only he can do.

– Craig Hamilton, Wisdom in Leadership, p. 64.

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It’s Not That They Didn’t Mean Well

Far too often we sound like Job’s friends when we encounter those who suffer, whether from tragic events or physical pain. We start out strong, offering our sympathy and support. Job’s friends sat silent with him for seven days and seven nights. They even lay there in the ashes with him, trying to show him “sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11). Yet after the accepted time of mourning was over, they clearly had expectations of progress and resolve. After that accepted period, however, Job did not finally speak into the silence as a calm stoic. No, he spoke as a frustrated believer who laments his birth, which has now led to heartbreak rather than happiness (Job 3). He lives in pain:

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
   and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
   I have no rest, but trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)

With this break in the silence his friends begin to speak, even aware that their words may provoke his impatience (Job 4:1-2). But they speak, and so do we. As time moves on, we expect the wounded person to get better; we expect their frustrations and questions to turn into stoic acceptance. We expect denial or victory – ongoing struggle is the option we are most uncomfortable with, yet that is exactly where most who live with ongoing pain and suffering actually are.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 65.

The Place for Lament

The human experience requires lament, at least as long as we live in the current world as we know it. Biblically there can be no question about the place and need of this practice – sin and sickness mean we must create space for genuine lamentation. Not because we despair but because we recognize the wounds of this world and of our hearts. God instructs us to bring to him our tears, our hurts, our confusion. Old Testament scholar Daniel J. Simundson reminds us of this scriptural tradition:

The lament allows for honest interchange between humans and God, the freedom to admit even bad theology and hostile thoughts. The lament turns to God as the ultimate source of help and, in the typical lament form, ends with the assurance that God has heard and will save. The lament does not solve all of the sufferer’s intellectual questions about the origin and meaning of the suffering, but does provide a structured way for the faithful to bring their suffering to God’s attention and to cope with it.

If we do not restore space for lament in our individual and corporate church life, our suffering will drive us not only away from others but away from God himself.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, p. 31.

What Should Motivate a Minister

The love of Christ ought to so predominate, so to possess his mind, and to bear him along, that every interfering, or opposing principle, should be neutralized or extinguished. This should suggest all his plans, guide all his operations, give energy to all his efforts, and afford him comfort under all his trials. Constrained by the love of Christ, he should cheerfully forgo all the comforts of ease, affluence, and worldly honor, to serve his Master in places far remote; or far removed from public observation. This holy affection should impel him to undertake the most arduous duties and encounter the most formidable dangers; this should enkindle the ardor of his eloquence, and supply the pathos of his most tender addresses. This is the hallowed fire which should be kept bright and burning continually. All other warmth is no better than ‘strange fire’. Nothing but the love of Christ can make a truly faithful pastor, or evangelist, assiduous in all his services, and indefatigable in the most private and self-denying duties of his office. Other motives may lead a man to great diligence in preparing for his labors in the pulpit, where splendid eloquence wins as much applause as anywhere else. Other motives also may stimulate a minister to great public exertion, and give him all the appearance of fervent zeal and devotedness to God, in the eyes of men; but if supreme love to Christ be wanting, he is, after all, nothing; or, at best, a mere ‘sounding brass or tinkling cymbal’. Genius, learning, eloquence, zeal, public exertion, and great sacrifices, even if it should be of all our goods, and of our lives themselves, will be accounted of no value, in the eyes of the Lord, if love to Christ be wanting.

– Archibald Alexander, The Pastor Office, quoted in Princeton and Preaching, pp. 126-27.

The Pastor’s Sacrifice

The more prominent you are in Christ’s service, the more certain are you to be the butt of calumny. I have long ago said farewell to my character. I lost it in the earlier days of my ministry by being a little more zealous than suited a slumbering age. And I have never been able to regain it except in the sight of him who judges all the earth, and in the hearts of those who love me for my work’s sake.

– Charles Spurgeon

The Unique Burden of the Pastor

“Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. … It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?””

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Ministers Fainting Fits” in Lectures to My Students

HT:AW