Are You Happy in Your Ministry? Does It Matter?

I don’t mean to sound cold or unfeeling, but I’d like to make a point today.

It hasn’t happened much lately, because at my advanced and doddering age, no one really wants me as a pastoral candidate anymore (that’s a rant for another post!), but through the years I have been asked a question many times.

“Hey, Dave, are you happy in your ministry?” 

When someone asks you that question, they are implying something. If you are not happy where you are, you must be willing to move to a new ministry. It is another way of asking, “Are you willing to put your resume in at such-and-such church?” The assumption is that if one is not happy in his ministry that he must be ready to find another ministry at which he will be happy.

That leads me to my point.

Where on earth did anyone get the idea that the personal happiness of the minister was a significant factor in whether or not he should stay at a particular church or find a new ministry?

Do you find that shocking?

Well, I would ask you to answer few questions?

  • Was Moses “happy” when he got his assignment to go down into Egypt?  He was not! He made excuses and eventually begged to be let off the duty. But God sent him down there nonetheless.
  • Was Jesus “happy” about facing the cross? He sweat “as it were drops of blood” in Gethsemane and begged God to find another way to redeem mankind.
  • Did Paul plan his ministry on the basis of his own happiness and contentment?  NOT A SINGLE DAY.  Read 2 Corinthians 11:16 through 12:10. His ministry was a time of constant suffering, betrayal, imprisonment and hardship.

In fact, I would lay this challenge before you. Show me one person in the Bible who had a personal encounter with the living God and then his or her life became easier afterward. We are not called primarily to happiness but to sacrificial service.

Before you inundate me with comments on the topic, please hear this. I’m not saying a pastor shouldn’t take care of himself. Take a day off. Take a vacation. Do things that you enjoy. Don’t neglect your family. Keep yourself healthy, if you can. That’s not the point of this. My point is simple and specific. We who decry the hedonistic impulses of the people we preach to have adopted a hedonistic attitude about our own ministries. I must be happy. My church must treat me well. People ought not say harsh things against me or oppose me. God would surely not expect me to stay in a church where there is division and dissension. If things are going poorly, I’ll just polish up the resume and rent a moving van.

All I ask is where anyone gets any such idea in the Bible?

1) Leaders are called by God to serve his purposes and his will not their own.

I was called to Southern Hills 8.5 years ago for the glory of God and the spiritual good of the people I serve. I have had good times and bad times. But the good times did not substantiate my calling, nor did the bad times negate it. I serve at the Master’s pleasure until he sends me on another mission.

2) People are sometimes cooperative, sometimes difficult, and sometimes downright evil!

Sinful people do sinful things; and everyone I serve is a sinner (as am I). I cannot expect everyone to love me. I ought to expect that there will sometimes be suffering and tough days. God saves people whose lives are a mess and calls us to be his tools in cleaning up those messes. If you are looking for easy, the ministry is not for you. That is all part of serving people in the name of God – hardship and trial. Moses experienced it. David did. Elijah did. Jesus did. Every one of the apostles did. I will. And so will you.

3) My happiness ought to be in Christ, not in the circumstances of my ministry.

Are you happy, Dave? Well, if I am rejoicing in Christ and living for his glory, then I can find love, joy and peace regardless of circumstances. Do you preach that your joy does not depend on the circumstances of life? Do you not remind people that we can love the unlovely, rejoice in the worst of times and experience a peace that passes understanding in the midst of the most awful storms of life? If you preach that, then turn tail and run the first time your work gets hard, what does that say about what you preached?

My happiness is not the primary goal of my ministry. The glory of Christ, the proclamation of the gospel and the good of the people of God are the goals. The shepherd lives for the sheep. Our happiness and joy comes from God and our service to him, not from how people treat us or how life is going.

4) Ministry is not just hard work, it is war! 

At the risk of being politically incorrect, a lot of pastors today are pansies. As soon as opposition arises, as soon as someone hurts their feelings, as soon as there are rumblings of dissension in the church, they run for cover. I have observed it over and over again.

I’ve been in the pastorate since February 1, 1982. I’ve been called pretty much every name in the book. I’m made huge mistakes and I have been falsely accused. And, to be honest with you, there more than a few days that I ABSOLUTELY HATE MY JOB. And sometimes, I hate people a little bit too! But that is my problem. I have to continue to love them with the love of the Lord even when the Dave Miller Love Tank runs dry. I have to return good for evil. I have to keep my eyes on the Lord and continue to serve Him when people have skewered me with their words, betrayed me with their actions or hurt me in a host of other ways. I have to continue even when I am covered in the slime of my own personal failure to stand up and point the way to Christ. Success in ministry comes from slogging on when you want to quit, from marching forward under heavy fire, from serving God not serving yourself.

I am not running a country club for the Lord’s Leisurely Saints. We are called to do battle against the principalities and powers. We battle against the innate and inborn sin in our own lives and in those of the people to whom we minister. We are not on R&R, we are in the middle of an intense conflagration. As time moves on, the battle rages heavier. No one goes to Iraq for the weather. Afghanistan is not a retreat. Soldiers go to these places because there is a war on and they have a job to do. We continue in ministry not because it gives us personal satisfaction, but because there is a war on and we have a job to do!

I am afraid we have lost that sense. It’s war, folks. You and I have been called to important roles in that war. It is not about my comfort, my happiness or my personal satisfaction. It is about the General and it is about the troops.  I get my orders and carry them out.

In those moments of happiness, praise God. But the servant of God, called by God to the front lines of the great spiritual war, does not let his own happiness guide him.

So, am I happy here? Sometimes. At other times I am so brutally unhappy I’d leave in a heartbeat if God opened a door. None of that matters. I was called to serve in this place. Sometimes God calls his servants to prosperity, but often it is to hardship. Sometimes, God calls us to suffer, even to die. But he called me to Southern Hills Baptist church over 8 years ago, and I must keep serving here, in good times and bad, until he releases me and sends me to serve elsewhere.

Comments

  1. says

    Are you grumpier since the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs?

    Have a smile :)

    On point: you’re dead right. I think we blew it in the 80s when we equated “happy” with “blessed” in the Beatitudes, and then connected “happiness” with “blessing.” Then, with the connection of “blessing” to “obedience,” too many of us drew a line connecting “happiness” to “obedience.” If I’m obeying, I’ll be happy.

    But we never shed the shallow happy definition. I don’t think a Christian ought to be happy when disobedient–that’s evidence of a seared conscience. Obedience, though, does not equal happiness. Any more than blessing=happiness.

    Sometimes, blessing is knowing that God is bigger and that your happies will come later.

    So, good word.

    • Dave Miller says

      For the record, whether it is just advancing apathy or personal growth, I did not get too worked up about the Yankees this year.

      Good thoughts, Doug. And the ultimate truth that we often forget is that sometimes, our “happies” don’t come in this world at all. We have sort of forgotten that Jesus said that treasures in this world weren’t what mattered most.

    • says

      Dave,
      You make a great point, but I would say that it goes even deeper than just pastors. I think Doug touched on it in his comment, that a lot of people think that God’s will for their life as a believer is for them to be happy. I see and hear a lot of people making decisions about what is or isn’t God’s will based mostly on the happiness factor, and I see a lot of bad outcomes as they do so.

      • Dave Miller says

        You are exactly right. My point is that we have let this personal peace, comfort and happiness ethic to drive our ministries as well. We lose our ability to confront if we also participate.

      • Keith Price says

        Jeff,

        I’ve seen a lot of the same bad outcomes based on a personal , “me centered” definition of happiness.

        I always felt that God was more concerned about our holiness than our happiness, our character rather than our comfort. Not that these are polar opposites, but depends on how we define happiness and comfort.

  2. says

    ” Leaders are called by God to serve his purposes and his will not their own.”

    That sounds as if there would be a difference between the two. If that’s the case, I’d question whether someone ought to be in the ministry. I know in my case, God put me in the career He did, because He wanted me there. And I followed His will there, as best I could.

    “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” It seems to me that implies that we have adopted God’s purpose as our own, so there ought to be no difference between those wills.

    • Dave Miller says

      I’m not sure your point, Bob. But while I wish it were not so, the fact is that at times, I have a will which is not completely submitted to Christ’s. As a pastor, I must serve his will, not my own.

  3. Christiane says

    it does a person good to let off steam now and then

    sorry about your Yankees, DAVID
    . . . but there’s always next year

    • Dave Miller says

      I’m not “letting off steam.” Venting is useless.

      This is a serious topic about the attitude those of us who serve as leaders in the church of Jesus Christ need to have.

      It has nothing to do with the Yankees, or with venting, or anything like that.

      • Christiane says

        “13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

        14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

        17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

        (from James 3)

        THIS is an apostolic teaching, DAVID

  4. Bob Browning says

    Dave,

    As a former member of The Church at Brook Hills, I have two words for you:

    “That’s Radical!”

    I praise the Lord for you brother and for your exhortation.

    In Christ,

    -Bob Browning

  5. says

    Dave,

    I’m much happier now sense you went back to the old format. I lost my balance trying to find stuff with the new format, hit my head, and well…became unhappy! Now that I have found more happiness on the website, I can turn to more weighty endeavors.

    I’ve found that the longer I place trust in the Holy Spirit’s leading the more I begin to understand his message of why I should be content and glad.

    “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying:
    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    I guess I am just now beginning to learn these things!
    Blessings,
    Chris

  6. says

    Phenomenal post, Dave. I really like your honesty and I’m thankful for your faithfulness to the Lord.

    On a side note…you mentioned a book in your post. A book that people use to assist them in calling you names. A friend wants to know where he might be able to get a copy of this book.

  7. says

    Dave,
    Interesting post. I’ll ask a quick question: is there a fundamental difference in the word “happiness” as you describe and joy, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) which is how Jesus faced the task of going to the cross (Heb 12:2).
    Paul does speak of ministry being a mixture of “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). So the NT does teach that pastors must have some sort of continual joy in their service. Maybe I’m misunderstanding a distinction between happiness/joy. Thoughts?

    • Dave Miller says

      Yes, Ryan, I do make that distinction. However, articulating it is more difficult. Joy comes in my relationship to God – that sense of peace and well-being that comes from serving him and glorifying him.

      Happiness is this-world focused. Happiness is what I feel when the Hawkeyes win, joy is what I can know even when evil – such as the Cornshuckers or Crimson Crud – wins. Joy comes from peace with God, happiness comes when things are breaking my way in the world.

      That is weak, I guess, but I hope you understand the distinction. Maybe later I can come back and expand on it.

      • says

        Thanks for clarifying how you understand the distinction. My hunch is that if your happiness is tied to any Iowa sports teams you will be “brutally” unhappy ;)

        My understanding that the NT word for happiness is closer to the “blessed” of the beatitudes, and thus is distinct from joy. I’d be curious to see if that blessed/happiness theme is tied to any of Paul’s remarks about how he felt in ministry.

        Blessings (happiness) in Christ Dave!

  8. Roger Simpson says

    Dave et. al.: I agree with what you are saying in this post.

    I think the Lord “wires us” so that there are certain things we are really into. We might do them “as a job” for pay, but we would probably be doing them anyway.

    Hopefully, each of us, can find an occupation that God is leading us to that is giving us positive feedback — independent of whatever is going on with other people in our work environment.

    In my case, I spent 40 years in Silicon Valley and a nerd working in Microcode Development — as a coder / architect / manager. This is a real rough and tumble environment. Some guys just can’t cut it. They don’t like the challenge of spending 60+ hour work weeks while trying to find out exactly why the whole system is crashing. Is this “random crash” a result of my code or somebody else’s? Is it in the operating system layer, the library layer, in my application code, or in one of 50 other people’s application code. Or maybe it is some kind of fluke hardware design problem where there is a race condition which causes “some” units to fail intermittently while other “identical” hardware boxes work fine for weeks or months.

    Is there some type of repeatable test we can devise to demonstrate the error so we can understand it and fix it? When a $2 billion project is slipping day for day until this problem is fixed, and the lab director is personally coming onto the test floor twice a day to see what the status is, then you have some idea of the kind of exposure that happens in Silicon Valley.

    As a college student I did my senior thesis implementing several algorithms to do matrix inversion to solve simultaneous equations. I stayed up all night — a dozen times at least — working on this in the computer lab.

    Even now when I’m retired I still play around with software. I’ve done stuff related to time domain to frequency domain conversion using the classic Fast Fourier Transform algorithm. I do this related to some stuff I play with on ham radio.

    How does transfer to the pastorate or any other job? YOU HAVE TO BE INTO YOUR JOB SO MUCH THAT NO EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCE IS GOING TO PUSH YOU OFF THE RAILS. We all have to have income to live. But you should like your job so much that you would do it — even if you we not being paid.

    For better or worse, the Lord gave us the calling and gifts we need to do the task at hand — so — independent of what your boss is doing, and independent of whether your colleagues are “nice guys” or not we should roll up our sleeves and go to work.

    If people in your work context are blocking progress — ignore them. They won’t be able to get traction if they are not making a contribution. They will either be shown the door or they will leave on their own. It is not necessary to internalize every workplace problem even if you are the boss. People who are out of sync with what’s going on will become so exposed that there is no way that they will be able to survive.

    I believe that this is potentially transferrable to churches. If people repeatedly won’t respond to church discipline kick them out or isolate them to the place that thy will get mad and leave on their own. I don’t believe we can risk the health of the whole enterprise just so a few soreheads have a platform to argue about some pet peeve. [Probably most church splits are the result of a very-very small core of people stirring up the pot which destroys a fellowship of hundreds or even thousands. I have witnessed this myself in real-world cases]

    As an aside, at the age of about 16, I felt like the Lord might be calling me into the ministry. I even went to seminary for a while after hanging it up in Silicon Valley. But it just wasn’t my calling. And besides, by this time, my wife’s MS had developed to the point to where the IMB would probably not have accepted us.

    Also, my management style presupposes that people share a common motivation to advance the goals of the enterprise. That style is “get to work or get out of the way”. I don’t know how transferrable that is to the ministry in the 21st century context where, all too often, church members are consumers that have to be coddled. But I guess the consumer mentality is not surprising given the way some churches do everything possible to “contextualize” stuff to meet niche demands of target market segments.

    As many have said on this post already, “since when is the calling to the ministry supposed to be a bed of roses?” Look at Moses and the stuff he had to deal with: guys complaining all the time, guys building a golden cow. The same thing could be said of many of OT prophets as well as the apostles. Paul gave a laundry list of all his problems in one of his epistles. Jesus himself demonstrated that Christianity is not for wimps.

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City OK

  9. says

    Great post, Dave!

    One word of encouragement: You said, “…because at my advanced and doddering age, no one really wants me as a pastoral candidate anymore.”

    I’ve noticed more and more retired pastors in my area showing up on the signs of small churches lately in my area as the pastor there. Small churches often can’t afford younger pastors with families to support. Retired people drawing Social Security don’t want to make salaries over a certain amount. Therefore, many small churches are hoping to find retired pastors who carry the wisdom of years and don’t want a healthy salary. I also know of larger churches in my area that are picking up retired pastors as part-time associate pastors for similar reasons.

    On another note, I draw a distinction between happiness and joy. I find great joy in suffering for others. I may not be happy about the discomforts of giving up time, rest, health, social acceptance, etc. But knowing that God is using me to benefit someone else in his name is a reward beyond measure. I just pray that I know that what I’m doing is in some way the right thing that I need to be doing. I most often don’t have the feedback that such is the case, which is disconcerting.

    • says

      Jim, you’ve got two great points. The joy is what we should hold onto.

      And that age can be as much of a benefit as anything else. I would suggest that many of our rural congregations, especially, would benefit from the wisdom of some of our pastors that have been at this a while. I think we’ve too long treated an experienced pastor that moved from a city church to a smaller rural church as ‘failing’ when there’s ministry to be done out here too.

      About half the churches in my association are pastored by semi-retired men. I think many of those are where they are because they retired from somewhere else and found they missed preaching and didn’t own a house–so they are “part-time” living in parsonages and helping churches that can’t afford “full-time” preachers. The blessing is that these men are able to pastor closer to full-time, but they can also claim their “part-time” status when they want to spend the week with their grandkids, or deer hunting, or fishing, or whatever.

      Dave’s not quite old enough yet to draw his 2VP kickbacks, but I hate to see any experienced minister of the Gospel think they are “too old.” Or any church to claim that of them.

  10. dr. james willingham says

    I think I knew it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing by my second year into my studies for the ministry. I was working 40 hrs. a week, carrying 12 hours of Greek in college, preaching on radio, etc., and sleeping about 5 hrs. a night. Things also went down hill in my call to my first pastorate, where they had fired my predecessor. A near by pastor (a grad. of NOBTS) said the ministers all felt sorry for me as they knew the church was going to take their anger out on the successor to that fellow which they did, seeking to fire me twice the first year. Even so the Lord was pleased to simmer things down the second year, and I moved on with the words of the chairman of deacons, “You done us a good job. We will give you a good recommendation anywhere.” My second church I resigned, and the third was a good 11 year run. The fourth was a ragged, 12.5 year passage that ended in getting fired. The moderator of that business conference said, “Well, we couldn’t find anything wrong with you, but we fired you anyway.” They had me followed, etc., but they could find anything as I loved ministry, preaching, etc. and neither money nor sex nor any other side track to disaster interested me. Even so one weeps, when such things occur. what purpose they serve in God’s plan will be revealed in eternity. Until then, we wait on the Lord. Happiness is secondary. The main thing is faithfulness, doing one’s job. One of the deacons wanted me to preach on one or more of the execration passages. I said that that would require some time and study on my part, but that I would try. I think he was looking for an excuse to fire me. In any case, after the message, he was singularly complimentary. (I showed that it served an evangelistic purpose).

    He would keep them from firing me on the Sunday before Christmas and be absent, letting nature take its course, the Sunday after Christmas. The 16 years since as been a series of hard times. Why such a down time, I cannot say. However, having been an Atheist, claiming that there could be no God and let little children suffer, and having been converted by our Lord doing a special work, and having a dream after the deaths of four family members in a murder-suicide, a dream in which the Lord told how He saw such tragedies and we (my wife and I in a group of people gathered in a semi-circle around Jesus, a beardless youth in a white robe (probably from some picture) were laughing, a happy health laughter like we had heard the only thing that could ever explain such things. Then I thought (in the dream), “This is the Lord. What am I doing standing here, talking to him,” and I dove at his feet and woke up. Just think I actually heard the Lord explain such things, but what He said, I do not know. Well, perhaps I will in Heaven.

    There is more about the griefs of life and ministry, but Paul has summed them up in these words: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”(Roms.8:18) and “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”(II Cors.4:17)

    Here is a quote that I found on the Internet yesterday from Isaac Newton in his Principia Mathematica: “Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription.” A preacher could not have said it any better.

  11. says

    Phil 4:11
    11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
    (NKJ)

    In my younger years I wondered why everyone would always ask that question. Phil 4 mentions not only to be content, but also learning to get to the point of being content! Happy Happy Happy is NO where to be found!

    Sometimes hard and painful! The older I get, the more I have to learn it! I have adopted a new motto: I would rather be obedient than be Tim happy!

    GREAT post!

  12. parsonsmike says

    Dave,
    Leaders?
    Apply it to all Christians.
    You lead and they follow (many follow right beside you).
    All Christians are to pick up their cross and follow theLord and those He has set over them.
    Otherwise great post.

  13. Jim Hedrick says

    I am humbled in the dust. All I can say about gospel ministry is Lord please have mercy all the gifted saints of the your church. Thanks brothers for showing your feet of clay. We are not as strong aswe think.

  14. Greg Harvey says

    I think recognizing the distinction between the word “happiness” which has the root “hap” which means “chance, fortune” or perhaps more colloquially “luck.

    Joy (and rejoice) derive from the same root as xaris. I’ll loosely offer that xar- means “favorably disposed, leaning towards”. Joy is clasically charan which is a noun based on xar-. Rejoice is an imperative rendered as chairete and could be rather literally translated “you (be) glad” (specifically 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

    Now I’m going to offer a thought. It probably isn’t a COMPLETE thought and tied up in this thought is a distinction between a “command”, a “requirement”, and an “expectation”. Perhaps the key difference between “happiness” and “rejoicing” is the choice of how to respond? But it goes deeper than that. Why on earth should we be favorably inclined (leaning towards) rejoicing?

    Why? Why? Why should we be inclined to rejoice?

    Because the difference between being happy and rejoicing is–it seems to me–the difference between whether in our “clerical” or “lay” vocational ministries we discover the means of being content or being discontent.

    Now I guess I owe my answer–and I’ve got to qualify it by saying I’m never very content in spite of all kinds of solid Scripture suggesting I should be–because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Or to take it further (and don’t stomp me on this one all of you who disagree with me soteriologically at least long enough to catch what I’m saying): as a response to the thought that God would not just provide the sufficient means of salvation in Jesus Christ, but that I also give him credit for the necessary means of salvation through the Providence of faith to me.

    So I rejoice due to God fulfilling both the necessary and sufficient conditions–if and only if–of me no longer being weighed down for eternity by the problems of the temporal presence in this life that is the usual source of my discontentment. Or said ever so slightly differently: I rejoice because I choose to as a response to what God has already done for me and PART OF MY REJOICING is the decision to serve him obediently in whatever thing (or things) he calls me to do by whatever clear or cloudy means he calls me.

    Now when you put it that way, Greg, this isn’t really about happiness at all, is it?

    No, in all honesty, I don’t perceive that it is.

  15. Greg Harvey says

    First paragraph got mangled: I think it probably was intended to be

    “I think recognizing the distinction between the word “happiness” which has the root “hap” which means “chance, fortune” or perhaps more colloquially “luck” and the word “joy” (a noun) or its related verb “rejoice”.