Leading others for the glory of Christ is a privilege — whether as a pastor, father, teacher, elder, whatever. But I have sometimes thought, “This sacred privilege might kill me!” Both the grace of leadership and the price of leadership are real.
So, how can we who lead find joy and renewal and energy along the way? We don’t want to be so crushed by our duties that we somehow convey to people that living for the Lord is a horrible fate to be avoided. Where does fresh strength come from? God has faithfully strengthened my weak arms for pastoral ministry in at least three ways.
1. Any ministry is a great privilege.
Pastoral ministry, as challenging and crushing as it can be at times, is still an immense privilege. Not many should (and not many get to) preach the Bible (James 3:1) — to serve God’s people, for God’s glory, in the unusually precious and harrowing ministry of the word of God. The hardships of this service can blind us to its blessing.
The sobering truth is that if we moan and complain, God might hear us and take our ministries away. Is that really what we want? After despondent Elijah prayed that he might die (1 Kings 19:4), the Lord sent him to anoint Elisha “to be prophet in your place” (1 Kings 19:16). Elijah should have prayed for the strength to keep going in faithfulness. Surely, the Lord would have been glad to speak of him as he did of Asher, “As your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25).
For a time, I did not have a church to pastor. During that hard season, I saw with new clarity what a joy and privilege ministry really is. So now, if things get hard, I keep thinking how great it is just to be involved at all. Christ has come, and he is coming back soon. It’s the fourth quarter. The divine Coach has us on the field, not on the bench. It doesn’t matter what play the Coach calls. All that matters is that he is keeping us on the field.
2. We often overlook the miracles around us.
Second, the Lord is with us in our ministries more than we sometimes perceive. Even when we feel alone, he is still present. Jacob exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). God is not in the entertainment business. He is not showy. But given his great heart of love for this world, he is greatly present — on his own terms, in his own way, especially among his people. Our part as pastors is to open our eyes by faith and see the miracles surrounding us.
For me, it happens every Sunday morning, starting about ten minutes before our 10:30 service at Immanuel. I see the volunteers cheerfully helping new people, and I think, Where did they come from? How did they get so good at that? I see people walking into the sanctuary, and I think, People are actually showing up again? This won’t flop? How is this happening? I see the band rehearsing, with their God-given musical gifts, and I think, How did we strike it rich with these musicians who are both talented and sincere toward the Lord? I see the sound team, the elders, the children, the attractive lighting, the cool graphics, and so forth, and I think, It’s all the Lord’s doing, grace upon grace. He has been kind, not just in a big vague sense, but in all the details and all the people who help support this ministry. Amazing!
As we pastors faithfully lift up Jesus according to the gospel, the Holy Spirit moves in our ministries. Let’s look for evidences of his presence around us each week. Every good gift we notice is “from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
3. God loves to renew the weak and stressed.
Finally, the Lord is able to renew our hearts with fresh confidence as we need it. In his classic, True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wisely wrote,
The Christian life, true spirituality, can never have a mechanical solution. The real solution is being cast up into moment-by-moment communion, personal communion, with God himself, and letting Christ’s truth flow through me through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Real Christianity, for pastor and layman, cannot be mechanical, it cannot be a technique, it must be personal, because God is a person and we are persons. That is why we engage personally with God, and it is how we find ongoing personal renewal in pastoral ministry.
That is not easy or automatic. Isaiah wrote, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). One Hebrew scholar defines that verb wait as a kind of stretching or elongating which can be stressful. When we are stretched to the limit, as we wait on the Lord, that ongoing distress is a highly creative spiritual environment, where we go deeper with him than we’ve ever gone before, deeper than we’ve dreamed of going, where manna falls fresh day by day.
Discovery Will Dispel the Darkness
Jonathan Edwards guided us with these words:
One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences, by the best mark that can be given, a whole year.
Looking back with a longing for past blessing will leave us stale, because a backward mentality is already stale. But looking forward with expectancy keeps us open to newness of life from above. As King David writes, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Psalm 34:5).
My dear brother pastor, if I were with you right now, I would look deeply into your eyes and say, “Jesus too was tempted with feelings of futility (Isaiah 49:4). He understands what you’re going through. Trust him, and take the next step. He will give you fresh strength.”