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.