Pastors, Get Out of the Trap
Monday can be an awful day for pastors who take their calling seriously. Not only are they often spent at every level from giving all they have to the preaching of God’s Word and other duties that are incumbent upon leaders, but there are other factors at work in their mind. Their emotional exhaustion tempts them to enlarge any criticisms they received the day before, since most already believe they will never measure up to expectations (their own, or anyone else’s). Their wholehearted desire to serve the Lord faithfully and be a success (even in biblical terms) often collides with the endless exaltation of celebrity pastors who they will read about this week in the blogosphere. And the harvest they witness from their own ministries falls so short of their efforts to sow the seed of the Word and water the ground of stony hearts.
So, what is a pastor to do on Monday morning (and any day, for that matter)? He must continually place before his mind the truth that the church is Christ’s church and Jesus will be the final judge of success at the end of the age. The pastor must remind himself that he is but a servant, which is an incredibly high calling, and will one-day be rewarded by his Master. Fellow pastor, for your encouragement, consider just a few of the Apostle Paul’s musings.
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-8
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. – 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8
The Lord will not forget your faithfulness. Remember that. This was one of the secrets of the Puritans: they cultivated steadfast faith by reminding themselves of the eternally-important truth that anything good that comes out of any of our ministries is the work of God, by His grace, through His Spirit, according to His sovereign plan. In their wonderful little book, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter gently exhort.
So pastors, get out of the trap of measuring yourself by the size of your ministry. Stop trying to produce fruit in other people’s lives. Let go of trying to breathe life into corpses. Each branch must abide in the vine, but you cannot be that vine. You can only cling to Christ, let His Word abide in you, and bear the fruit of the Spirit to the glory and praise of God. Be faithful to proclaim both the law and the gospel. In so doing, you will show that you love Christ and truly care for His sheep. And you will discover the wondrous power of the Shepherd’s voice to call His little flock to Himself ‘by the lively preaching of His Word.’
We should grieve over the lost, pray for their salvation, and preach the gospel to them. But let us not take responsibility for converting them or for building Christ’s church. Take responsibility only for yourself. Remind yourself daily that you are not the Savior but only His servant.
Anthony Burgess (d. 1664) asked, ‘Is it God that giveth the increase?’ He answered, ‘Then we ministers are not to be inordinately cast down, if people receive no divine stamp upon them. If we water not; if we plant not; then, woe be to us: but when both is done, yet if there be no increase, that is our misery, not our sin. God will give to every minister according to his work, not according to his success.’