I know how you feel. I know the physical, emotional, psychological, and relational pressures you’ve been under for nearly two years.
I understand the challenges of trying to shepherd the flock of God when that flock is scattered.
I understand the frustrations of relaunching ministries only to place them on pause again and again.
I understand the discouragement when some of your most active volunteers have stepped away from key roles.
I understand the exhaustion of preserving unity within a congregation with varying opinions on masks, vaccines, and the speed with which the church is returning to “normal.”
I understand the demands of ministry are challenging even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic.
I understand that this Christmas season may be one of your first attempts to fill up your church calendar with several events – only to find minimal participation among your members.
I also understand where these difficulties might lead. They can lead to weariness. They can lead to burnout. They can lead to pure mental and physical exhaustion.
If that describes you, I hope you will read on. May these five passages from God’s Word encourage you as you continue to faithfully shepherd the flock of God that is among you.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah reminds the weary pastor (and all other weary souls as well) that God is God – and we are not. God is the everlasting one. He is the infinite one. He is the one who does not faint. He is the one who does not grow weary. And we are none of those things. Pastors are finite. We often grow weary and faint. But, when we wait on the Lord, He renews our strength.
What a tremendous promise! The One with infinite strength supplies the weary pastor with all you need to be renewed. You never have to worry about the Lord running out of energy, so you can always turn to Him whenever you feel your batteries begin to get low.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Not only does God have the power to provide rest and to renew our strength, but He also invites us to come to Him so that He can do so. While the immediate context of Jesus’ statement is a call to come to Him for salvation, it’s clear from other biblical passages that He will never turn away someone who comes to Him for other types of rest as well.
As a pastor laden with heavy burdens, let me encourage you to bring those burdens to the Lord. Bring your frustrations to Him. Bring your disappointments. Bring your challenges. Bring your fears. Bring everything to Him. He won’t turn you away. He won’t ignore your burdens. He will give you rest.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
“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. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”
If I’m completely transparent with you, sometimes I wear myself out in ministry for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, I begin to think that I’m something that I’m not. I begin to allow pride to creep into my heart and convince me that I’m some sort of spiritual superstar. While nothing could be further from the truth, I feel like I need to maintain a reputation of elite spiritual status. I feel like I need to be admired and respected. Therefore, I exhaust myself in my feeble attempts to convince others that I’m something that I’m not.
Pastor, perhaps you feel the same way at times. Maybe you begin to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Maybe you wear yourself out in ministry simply to maintain an inflated reputation. Or maybe you often run on empty because you feel that the spiritual growth of your church is entirely based upon your efforts alone. If so, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3 may sting at first. But after you meditate on them for just a moment, you’ll begin to remember who you truly are in Christ. You are a servant. You have a role to fill, but you don’t give the growth. Only God does that.
So, don’t waste your time and energy in a vain attempt to give the growth yourself. Don’t wear yourself out trying to convince yourself and others that you’re something that you’re not. Just be faithful to the tasks that God has assigned to you. Feed the flock. Lead the flock. Protect the flock. Comfort the flock. But leave the growth – and the glory – to God.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
The past 21 months have placed a great deal of pressure on pastors. Some of that pressure has been self-imposed, while some of it came from well-meaning church members concerned with the alarming number of folks who have not returned.
I understand those pressures. They are real, and they can be intense. And you can quickly burn out in your attempts to bring some of your long-lost church members back into the fold.
That’s why Jesus’ words in John 10 are so important for pastors to remember. While you serve as an “under-shepherd,” you are not the Chief Shepherd of your church. The sheep in your flock ultimately don’t belong to you. They belong to Him. And Jesus confidently declared that no one would snatch them out of His hand.
In many ways, remembering this truth reduces the pressures of ministry significantly. While you must still labor hard at shepherding God’s flock among you and also do what you can to bring God’s flock back into the fold, your church members are ultimately in God’s hands and not your own. Although some of the flock may not be in your sight right now, God’s eyes are still fixed firmly upon them.
Therefore, continue to make sincere attempts to bring absentee church members back into the fold, but you can also rest in the fact that the Chief Shepherd will not allow any that are truly His to be snatched away.
2 Timothy 4:5-8
“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 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.”
Ministry is not easy. Paul certainly knew that truth. In his parting words to his young ministry protégé, he wanted to remind Timothy of that truth as well. But Paul also knew that for those ministers of the gospel who fight the good fight, who finish the race, who keep the faith, they will receive a crown of righteousness.
As a pastor, you already know the difficulties of ministry all too well. However, ministry in a pandemic has increased the levels of difficulty exponentially, and that’s why Paul’s words here are so encouraging.
Pastor, you do not labor in vain. God sees your faithfulness. And better yet, He will reward your faithfulness. So, don’t give up. Know that your efforts will one day lay up for you a glorious crown!
Press on, dear Brother Pastor. Press on.
Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels