This past year has proved trying for everyone, especially those in the ministry. We’ve dealt with sickness and dying on a scale beyond our experience. Circumstances have forced us to serve in ways that are unfamiliar. (I still don’t like preaching to a camera instead of people!). We’ve had to learn new things and temporarily abandon normal ministry practices. When was the last time you made a hospital visit?
Beyond the stresses of church life, we’ve struggled with personal issues. Last year Dave Miller lost his father. My father died of COVID19 in October, and neither I nor my sisters could sit with him. He died alone in a nursing home. I’m still frustrated by that. Intellectually, I understand the need to minimize the spread of the virus, but emotionally I felt the need to sit with my Dad during his last days and hours. Of course, our church members have encountered the same or similar situations.
Not only are Christians dying, churches are dying, too. I wrote a post about this recently. The pandemic has strained all churches, but smaller churches have floundered. Churches that could not offer online giving and online services have suffered, and many will not survive.
So, there are plenty of reasons to feel depressed. Dave Miller wrote transparently about his own discouragement and depression. We’ve all felt the same, and we’ve all felt frustration and anger. Still, we need to be reminded of the joys of ministry. I’ve known pastors who communicate that the ministry is a great burden, but they bear it for the Lord’s sake. I’ll agree there are plenty of burdens in the ministry, but we need to recover the joy. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my fifty years of ministry. I enjoyed my service as a foreign missionary, seminary professor, interim pastor, bi-vocational pastor, and now teaching pastor. Sure, I’ve dealt with burdens, but there have been more blessings.
What joys can we identify during this long dark night of the soul? The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved and longed for brethren, my joy and my crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved” (Phil 4:1, NKJV). Paul declared that the believers at Philippi brought him joy. During the lockdown in April, when we could not worship publically, a college student professed faith in Christ. She is now a vibrant witness at Texas Tech, and she’ll participate in an international discipleship program this summer. Two of our deacons started a men’s Sunday school class in August, and they are having about twenty each week now. Half of those guys were un-churched before. One recently professed faith in Christ. Recently, I preached on abortion, and after the service, several people came to ask how they could get involved in pro-life efforts. All these things brought me joy.
On a personal note, I grieved that my father died, but I rejoiced at the birth of my grandson, Charlie. He brings me joy, for sure, as do my other grandchildren.
Let’s all meditate on the meaning of Nehemiah 7:10—“for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (NKJV).
What things have brought you joy in your ministry this past year? As the old hymn says, “count your blessings.”