Some years ago, I heard Johnny Bisagno preach in the Southern Baptist Seminary chapel. He had announced his retirement from FBC Houston, and he was making a “farewell tour” of the SBC seminaries. He titled his message “Finishing Well.” In the sermon, he recounted how he studied at Oklahoma Baptist University with 24 other “preacher boys.” They all had enrolled in OBU to prepare for the ministry. He stated that as best he could determine, he was the only one still active in ministry. So, in his message, he exhorted the seminary students to continue in ministry and “finish well.”
This past year has proved trying to pastors in particular. Thom and Sam Rainer have predicted that many pastors will transfer churches or leave the ministry when the pandemic is over. I guess we’ll know in a year or two if their predictions are correct. Thinking about this prompted me to ask the question—What keeps pastors going in ministry? Ministry is challenging enough in good times, and this past year has been incredibly stressful. So, what keeps you going?
Many pastors (and missionaries, too) continue because they have a strong sense of calling to the ministry. We must testify to a calling in order to be ordained as a pastor or appointed as a missionary. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 1:1—“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (NKJV). I remember hearing Dr. Winston Crawley, the Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB), speak of this during our new missionary training in 1975. He said, “Your sense of calling will keep you going when things are tough.” He was right. My sense of calling to missions kept me going during difficult times. I’m sure many pastors would say the same.
Some pastors, no doubt, continue because of a sense of duty. They believe it is their duty to serve the Lord.
Others serve, perhaps, because they enjoy the attention and praise that pastors receive. In Matthew 6, Jesus criticized those who performed acts of charity and prayed publicly in order to be noticed and praised by people.
I have known pastors who continued to serve simply because they were not trained to do anything else. When I was young, lots of men majored in Bible/theology in college and then earned a Master of Divinity degree at seminary. They were well trained for ministry, but not for anything else. It’s not like you can decide to become an accountant or engineer at age 58 with no prior training. So, some pastors continue to serve because they cannot do any other job.
I know a pastor who really needs to change churches, but no other church has called him. He is not old enough to retire, so he’s stuck. His members know he needs to leave, and he knows he needs to leave, but there is no other option for him.
Others keep on in ministry because of a sense of stewardship. They have training and experience, and they believe it is good stewardship to continue serving.
I believe the highest motivation for serving the Lord is love. The Apostle Paul endured hardship and persecution, but he served the Lord until he died. In 2 Corinthians 514a, Paul writes, “For the love of Christ compels us….” Our love for the Lord will keep us going in spite of trials and tribulations.
In his last letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8, NKJV).
So, I ask you again—What keeps you going?