I purposefully write this article to you on a Monday morning because that is when a wearied pastor needs it the most. Every pastor I know has at one time slouched in his desk chair on Monday morning feeling completely exhausted both mentally and physically. Sometimes you suffer from Monday fatigue because you had a marvelous Sunday which led you to a “good tired”. However, there are other weeks where your fatigue is mostly emotional and spiritual. Maybe for you attendance hasn’t been good lately, tithing is down, deacons meeting didn’t go as you would have preferred, you feel as though you “swung and missed” on the sermon yesterday and you have a difficult counseling appointment coming to your office this afternoon. I have been there.
You are not alone in your weariness. Focus on the Family indicates that 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week. 75% of pastors report they have gone through a significant stress related crisis at least once in their ministry. 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job and 40% report a serious conflict with a church member at least once a month. (Pastors at Greater Risk, H. B. London and Neil B. Wiseman). For these and many other reasons pastoral tenures are down and the number of pastors leaving the ministry is at its highest rate in many years. Another study found that 45.5% of pastors say they have experienced depression or “burn out” to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. (The Parsonage, April 2002). Don’t be a statistic.
I offer to you, my wearied pastor friend, 3 scriptural reminders:
1. God has placed in your heart an irrevocable calling. No matter how bad things seem or how low you feel, the calling of God on your life is not impacted or lessened during difficult days. I was told early on in ministry that there would be rough days where I would need to hold on to my calling a little tighter than usual. Out of the billions, God has called a few to do what you do. It is the highest privilege known to man. In speaking of his ministry Paul says to the Corinthians, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). In the 4th chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul is reflecting on the purpose and passion of his call to ministry. He compares his calling to a “light shining in his heart” which is likened to the moment God called light out of darkness in Genesis. Paul states that his ministry calling includes the same Glory that shown on the face of Christ at the transfiguration! In verses 7-12 Paul lists his various struggles in ministry all leading to the peak of this passage, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (16-17). The surpassing Glory of God which empowered Paul’s calling was glorious enough to overwhelm the worst of his situations which led him to exclaim, “That is why we never give up.” Though your body is fatigued, your mind exhausted and your spirit feels crushed, the calling in your heart is as glorious as the first light of creation and the face of Christ on Mount Hermon. On my toughest days in ministry I often go back to that day when I felt the assurance of his holy calling on my life. Ministry can get messy and complicated. There are times I have to go back to the place of my calling simply to be reminded of the powerful truth that God chose me.
2. God placed you in his hand with an inexhaustible grip. There is an unseen hand holding you. On your worst days he holds your chin up, while you are in the pulpit he holds your spirit up and on your most stressful days his grip will grow even tighter. As John writes to the 7 churches in Asia Minor he writes about his powerful vision of our victorious Lord. In the midst of his description is a great reminder of the love that Jesus Christ has for his pastors. “He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his Countenance was like the sun shining its strength.” Revelation 1:16. The “seven stars” in his right hand were the seven pastors of the churches to which he was writing. He is not seen here simply watching over the pastors or keeping them in close proximity, he is holding them in his right hand. His right hand signifies his eternal strength and the fact that he is holding these pastors in his dominant hand should give us great encouragement as his under shepherds. When ministry gets tough I often picture myself as a child in the midst of a hurried crowd, holding a tight grip to my father’s hand. However, the visualization becomes more scriptural when I recognize that I am not holding his hand, I am actually nestled in his hand. It is a place of protection and ownership. It is also a sign that he is using us for his glory. It is in our dominant hand that items are used most effectively, so it is with us in the hand of Christ. Paul gives us the same picture in Philippians 3:12b, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” At the time of your calling Christ Jesus took hold of you. He has you in the palm of his powerful, protecting hand. Take a deep breath, sit back, pray and enjoy his presence. In the quietness of that moment you will sense his strong grip.
3. God will one day place on your head an incorruptible crown. “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly–not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” 1 Peter 5: 2-4. Though I don’t pretend to understand or comprehend, Peter looks to a day when our Great Shepherd presents to us a crown of glory. There are many crowns mentioned in the Scripture, but this one in particular is reserved for faithful church leaders. I know there are days when your head is spinning with tasks and other days when your head is overwhelmed with burdens. Yet, I can guarantee there is coming a day when your head will be crowned with glory. Is pastoral ministry worth all the stress? Would it be easier to quit and do something else? Maybe. However, on your worst days reflect on the truth of this verse and the reality that it represents. This is not just some story or something to make you feel better about ministry. My wearied pastor friend, don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t lose heart. One day in eternity the very one who you have preached about, prayed to and spoken of will take those nail scarred hands and place a crown on your head. You have preached about his glory but one day he will share it with you in the form of an incorruptible crown.
Tear up that resignation letter and do away with those thoughts of quitting. Your calling is grand, his grip is great and your future is crowned with an incorruptible glory. Keep a tight grip on the Gospel plow!
Dr. Blackwell is Director of Samford’s Ministry Training Institute at Samford University. This post originally appeared at his site: www.drkevinblackwell.com