As a young teenager, I had recently become a follower of Jesus. One day, my family took me to a revival meeting at a small church in Springfield, Ohio. While I do not recall much of what the evangelist spoke about, I distinctly remember the moment in his message when I felt a clear calling from God to become an evangelist myself. From that moment on, I began to pursue that calling with all my heart. I have fulfilled my calling through various ministry positions and serve as a local church Pastor. However, as fulfilling and rewarding as this calling has been, it also comes with highs and lows.
Ministry is not a smooth ride; it can be incredibly satisfying and utterly exhausting. It's a rollercoaster of emotions that requires us to constantly lean on God for strength, wisdom, and perseverance. The truth is, the highs are high, and the lows can be pretty low. If you are like me, you've probably had those moments that were so low that you just wanted to quit. As you read this, you may be feeling that right now. Maybe you are dealing with criticism, conflict, or simply feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. I want to encourage you today to keep going because the calling of ministry is worth it. Amid all these challenges, there is a joy and honor that comes with living out our calling as leaders in God's kingdom.
One thing that makes ministry so hard is that it's not just a job; it's a calling from God. As leaders in His Church, we carry the weight and responsibility to lead His people and represent Him to the world. This level of commitment can feel daunting, especially when we face challenges and struggles that seem too big to handle. We are expected to have all the answers, to be constantly available, and to pour out our hearts and souls for others. It's a constant balancing act that can take its toll on us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But even amid these challenges, we can find comfort and strength in knowing that God has chosen us for this calling and will equip us to fulfill it.
God cares more about you than your ministry.
Despite the challenges, what makes the calling of ministry a great joy and a profound honor is that God cares more about you than your ministry. We are not merely servants but sons and daughters of the Most High. Being in Church isn't just about doing for God; it's about being with God. He cherishes our relationship with Him above all else, and it is through this relationship that we are nourished and rejuvenated. He comforts us in our trials, provides wisdom in our dilemmas, and fortifies us with His strength when we feel weak. Our ministry flows out from our connection with Him.
It's easy to get caught up in the tasks and the to-do lists and lose sight of the One who gave us this calling. But remember, God does not measure our worth by the success of our ministries but by our willingness to love and serve Him wholeheartedly. This realization can bring a great sense of relief and freedom, transforming the burdens of leadership into opportunities for spiritual growth and increased reliance on God's power, not our own.
A divine task and reward
As we've said, the joy of ministry is not without its challenges, but it's essential to remember one of the most beautiful aspects of our role. Imagine, for a moment, if you had someone who spent their entire life helping your spouse to love you more. They dedicated their time and effort to guide them, nourish them, comfort them, and help them understand your love more deeply. What overwhelming gratitude you would feel towards such a person! Now consider this: as pastors and ministry leaders, this is the divine task we have been assigned regarding Christ's bride, the Church. We have been given the awesome responsibility to help God's people grow in their love and understanding of Him. Yes, it's a task that comes with significant challenges, but the privilege to serve Christ in this capacity and witness the growth of His love within His people is a reward. Let this truth reignite your passion and commitment to the high calling of ministry.
But I have fear, doubts, and questions.
Internally, we grapple with our doubts, fears, and feelings of inadequacy. We question whether we are doing enough, if we are leading effectively, and if we are genuinely making a difference. We face the pressures and expectations of the congregation and the world at large. We are expected to have all the answers, to always be there for everyone, and to navigate difficult situations with grace and wisdom. In addition, we contend with the broader societal expectations and perceptions of what a pastor or church leader should be, which often do not align with the reality of our human limitations or biblical expectations.
This is where a philosophical shift is necessary. Our value in ministry should not rest on our abilities, accomplishments, or the approval of others. Instead, our worth should be rooted in our identity as children of God, called and equipped by Him for this work. We need to move away from a performance-driven mindset to one that recognizes ministry as a journey of faithfulness and obedience to God's call, recognizing that we are doing this to obey and serve Him.
Jesus, our ultimate example, did not seek to please the crowds or conform to their expectations. Instead, He faithfully fulfilled God's will, even when it led to the cross. As followers of Jesus, we are to do the same. Our aim should not be popularity or success by worldly standards but faithfulness to the call of God and service to His people. We are not called to be perfect but to be faithful. This shift in perspective can free us from the burdens of unrealistic expectations and the fear of failure, allowing us to serve with joy and authenticity.
Remember, in the Kingdom of God, it's not about being the best or the most successful; it's about being faithful and obedient to God's call. The value of our ministry is not measured by worldly standards but by our faithfulness to God's call. May this truth encourage and challenge you in your journey of ministry.
Walking the tightrope of faithful leadership.
At the heart of our calling as pastors and ministry leaders, we must recognize the significant stakes in our hands. For us, our obedience to God's call is paramount. Our faithfulness in serving Him and His people determines our spiritual growth, our intimacy with Him, and our eternal rewards. We are constantly being shaped and molded through this journey, becoming the leaders God has called us to be.
On the other hand, for those we serve, the stakes are equally high, if not higher. As leaders, we play a pivotal role in their spiritual journey. Our teaching, guidance, and pastoral care can significantly impact their understanding of God, their relationship with Him, and their spiritual growth. We have the privilege and responsibility of helping them navigate their faith, encouraging them in their walk with God, and aiding them in understanding and applying God's Word in their lives. Furthermore, our leadership and actions can significantly influence their perception of the Church and Christianity. Therefore, we must strive to lead with authenticity, grace, and Godly wisdom, fully conscious of the high stakes involved in our calling.
The beauty and weight of it all.
Having served in the ministry for over 40 years, I have journeyed through seasons of immense joy and profound heartache. There have been times when I have felt the overpowering euphoria of a thriving ministry, seeing lives transformed and witnessing the incredible power of God's love. But there have also been moments so difficult, so challenging, that they have brought me to my knees in despair, questioning everything. Yet, through every high and low, I have come to understand that these experiences are all used by God for His glory if I will allow Him to have them and do His work in me.
Each challenge, each victory, has been a vital part of my growth as a leader and follower of Christ. They have shaped me, molded me, and prepared me for the journey ahead. In the face of hardship, I have learned to lean not on my understanding but on God's wisdom and strength. In times of joy, I have learned to give thanks and recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Looking back, I see not just a series of ups and downs but a beautiful tapestry woven by the hand of God, each thread contributing to the masterpiece of His calling on my life. It is this perspective that has carried me through, and it is this truth that I hope will encourage and strengthen you in your ministry journey, too.
With the wisdom and experience gained through decades of ministry, I want to add with authority that the calling of pastoral leadership is not just an occupation; it is a divine appointment - a sacred trust. The highs and lows, the triumphs and trials, the joys and heartaches all serve a purpose in God's grand design. From my journey, I've learned that walking in obedience to God, leaning on His wisdom rather than my own, and trusting Him in every season is the path to true fulfillment in ministry. These lessons weren't taught in a classroom but were forged in the crucible of real-life ministry through each challenge faced, and each victory won. They have shaped who I am, deepened my faith, and strengthened my resolve to serve Christ faithfully. Remember, God's calling on your life is irrevocable, and He who has called you is faithful. He will equip you, guide you, and sustain you in every season of your ministry journey.
Embrace the joy and challenge of the pastoral calling.
Embracing the tension of leadership in the Church is a journey of continual growth and deep trust in God. As pastors and ministry leaders, we navigate a unique dynamic of joy and challenge. We are called to lead with authority, yet serve with humility; to be strong for our congregation, yet vulnerable before God; to speak truth, yet exemplify grace. This dual nature of our calling can often generate tension, but it is within this tension that we find our true strength and purpose.
Living with this tension requires surrender, acknowledging our limitations, and our need for God's wisdom and guidance. It involves understanding that our strength is made perfect in weakness, and it's okay not to have all the answers. It means walking in humility, recognizing that we are shepherds, not The Shepherd, guides, not the destination, servants, not the Savior. It is in this space of surrender and humility that we create room for God to move, for His strength to shine through our weaknesses, and for His wisdom to guide our decisions.
Moreover, living with the tension of leadership involves embracing the paradox of joy and sorrow, success and failure, certainty and doubt. It's recognizing that our journey will be marked by peaks of victory and valleys of defeat, moments of clarity, and seasons of confusion. Yet, in every high and low, in every triumph and trial, God is at work, molding us into the leaders He wants us to be and using our lives to impact others for His glory.
Embracing this tension is a part of our calling, a part of our journey. It is not something to be avoided or feared but accepted and learned from. It is in this tension that we grow that we learn to rely more on God and less on ourselves. It is here that we learn to lead with grace, to serve with love, and to walk in obedience to God's call. So, embrace the tension, lean into it, learn from it, and let it shape you into the Leader God has called you to be.
Here are a few things that I have found to help me live in the ongoing tension of this calling:
1. Seek God's Wisdom in All Things (James 1:5)
Embrace the promise that God generously gives wisdom to those who ask. As leaders, it is essential to prioritize seeking God's wisdom through prayer, study, and meditation on His Word. This wisdom will guide your decisions, your teaching, your pastoral care, and every aspect of your ministry.
2. Cultivate a Heart of Servanthood (Mark 10:43-45)
This is not my nature, but Jesus, our ultimate example of leadership, made it clear that greatness in the Kingdom of God is marked by a heart of servanthood. As a ministry leader, I pray that for his transformation of my heart daily to be like that of Jesus as a servant of all. Let's strive to model this servant leadership in our interactions with those we serve. Prioritize humility and self-sacrifice over personal ambition or recognition.
3. Persist in Faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2)
God values faithfulness more than flashy results or worldly success. As a pastor, your responsibility is to be faithful in fulfilling the tasks God has entrusted to you regardless of the results and leave the results in His hands. This includes faithfully teaching the Word, caring for His people, and living a life that models Christ-like character. Regardless of the season you're in, your focus should always be on faithfulness to God's call more than anything else.
Despite the challenges and the seemingly insurmountable highs and lows, the pastoral calling remains a uniquely rewarding and fulfilling journey. It is a divine entrustment that calls us to dig deep into the core of our spiritual lives and lead God's people with wisdom and humility. As we live out our calling, seeking God's wisdom, cultivating a heart of servanthood, and persisting in faithfulness, we'll witness the transformative power of God at work in us. We'll see ourselves growing into the image of Christ, our ultimate Leader, and experiencing the profound joy of serving others. This transformation is not an overnight occurrence but a lifelong journey of becoming. It is a journey marked by grace, shaped by prayer, and sustained by the relentless love of God. So, let us embrace this glorious calling with courage, steadfastness, and a heart fully surrendered to God. And as we do, we can look forward to the day when we hear those words that every servant of God longs to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." May this hope inspire us to live out our calling with faith, hope, and love, and may our lives bear witness to the transformative power of the gospel we preach.