The other day I was reading what could probably be called a pastoral resume. It was filled with an honest assessment of what the ministry had cost this individual. There were notes about abuse he had experienced, exhaustion in both body and soul, the hardships and disappointments that had followed him. For this man the ministry demanded nothing less than his life – spending and being spent for the sake of the gospel. Yet, this same man writing in another place to a younger pastor wrote: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1 Timothy 1:12). The Apostle Paul knew better than almost anyone the hardships of ministry. But never did those hardships quench the gratitude he had for serving in the ministry.
In my almost six years of pastoral ministry I've often returned to those words. In knowing a lot of pastors I'm aware that the ministry is difficult for many of them. I remember reading a letter from Mary Winslow to her son Octavius where she reminded him: “When you accepted the pastoral office you commenced a life of trial both from saint and sinner.” There's a note of experienced wisdom in those words. But there seems, at least in my perspective, to be an unfortunate emphasis on the negative side of the pastoral ministry – conflict, long hours, budget woes, neglect, burnout, etc. Is that all the ministry amounts to? Not a chance! And I think pastors need to be guarded and resist the temptation of letting those things quench the gratitude we ought to have for the great service we've been entrusted with by Jesus Christ.
There really are so many blessings and joys that accompany gospel ministry. So, from a pastor's perspective what are some of those?
It's a blessing to be accepted into the life of a church. I became a pastor of a close-knit congregation that has a long history together. But very quickly people began weaving us into their lives and I've never been made to feel like an outsider or even a guest. It's often amazed me how quickly the Lord established the fellowship of the Spirit with affection, compassion, and love.
It's a joy to see the way my children are loved. Though grandparents live far away our children are privileged to have a congregation where they (with the other children in church) are known, cared for, valued, invested in, and protected. From the littlest things like when my daughter lost her blanket after an evening activity and it turned into a church-wide blanket hunt, to when we had a sobbing child getting stitches and a woman from church came and sat with her in the ER. Members in our congregation read the stories they write, look at the artwork they draw, greet with smiles and hugs, and remember their birthdays.
It's a blessing to be included in the ups and downs of life. I don't take it for granted to be witness to or even have an active role in some of life's happiest and saddest moments. It's an honor to be one of the first visitors of a newborn in the hospital, or to baptize and officiate weddings. It's flattering to get updates from soldiers, to get pictures from excited grandparents, and to be invited to graduations. It's humbling to be informed of bad doctor's reports, to cry with grieving parents, to try and shine a light into the darkness of depression, or to officiate a funeral. I'm grateful for the many opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
It's a joy to be welcomed to the bedside of the dying. It's an important lesson the Bible teaches when it tells us that it's better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting. There's almost no experience in the ministry that compares to sitting in a tiny hospital room or a hospice wing while singing Psalms, reading the promises of the gospel, and praying for dear brothers and sisters until they step past the threshold of eternity. It's one of life's greatest honors to watch as someone finishes in the faith, and then to be there alongside their family as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
It's a blessing to be confided in and trusted. As a pastor people have opened up and shared their marital and parenting struggles, their fears and anxieties, their temptations and sins, their past and present hurts, and the big decisions they face. Sometimes they come for a listening ear, and other times for a word of counsel. On more than on occasion I know that what they've told me is kept in the confines of a very narrow circle of people. It is not insignificant to have people willingly share their lives with me.
It's a joy to pray with and for people. Prayer is such a vital part of the pastoral ministry. The spiritual and physical burdens that people have are a daily reminder to me about how necessary it is. One of my favorite five word questions is: “Will you pray for me?” It's not only a pleasure to draw near to the God who cares for us, but there's a wonderful spiritual fellowship when we get to storm the throne of grace on behalf of other people. As a pastor I have weekly (even daily) opportunities to do that.
It's a blessing to prepare others to suffer well. For me, the biggest surprise of the pastoral ministry has been how much Christ's sheep suffer – sickness, disease, loss, depression, pain, and on and on. We have been promised a cross before we attain the crown, and I've become convinced that one of the greatest burdens of the pastoral ministry is to prepare people to suffer for the glory of God. It's one of the most difficult things to do, but what a reward in seeing the sufficient grace of Jesus show its strength in times of greatest sorrow.
It's a joy to be provided for. I know sometimes budget issues (pastoral compensation not excluded) can feel like the elephant in the room. Is it a little awkward for all involved? Maybe. But it's a great comfort to know that the congregation I serve cares that my family and I have what we need – and more! Their provision goes beyond a paycheck, and they've often expressed their love with generous and thoughtful gifts (from garden vegetables to handsewn quilts), hospitality, and notes and words of encouragement.
It's a blessing and joy to preach the gospel. It's no small thing to make known the riches of the one whose riches are measured in grace and mercy, and the worthiness of the one who is worthy of all worship. I'm fully persuaded that the pinnacle of Christian ministry is to proclaim the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ week-by-week. To preach the gospel that convicts and saves and sanctifies is worth the trials and troubles of the ministry, and it's a profound encouragement to have a congregation who through their hearing and receiving of the preached word are saying: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
To be a pastor is one of the highest honors and privileges I can imagine. And with the Apostle Paul I can say: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”