Pastoral Suffering, Service, Sanctification, and Solace
Visiting pastor friends from time to time, I am always re-sensitized to the remarkable burden pastors endure. Financial pressures (church and personal), political intrigue by sheep, goats, and wolves, alike, along with the burdens of family care, are simply too much. The litany of cares seems endless and insurmountable.
The notion of being called to this appointment is a trembling afterthought for me. I experienced it, but I did not survive. My experience has caused me to want to now minister to faithful pastors, especially to those who are in a difficult spot. Small acts of giving can help sustain our point-men in the ministry stewardship. For instance, I buy good used books and give them to pastors who ought to be encouraged.
The man of God will never survive the ministry, empowered by the flesh. God’s sanctification of His called slaves is too much for the pastor to endure. His appointment as an elder (Acts 20:28) will crush him…by design. I have met pastors, thrown out of the synagogue, who are as bitter and angry at the church as a caged animal. This exposes their worldly ambition brought into church service.
It is God who en-cages those He is working on, to craft them into conformity to Christ (Rom 8:29). Other pastors who have become ex-pastors have become passive aggressive, non-participants in the church. These, too, have not been humbled to the point of remembering their first love.
Christ Jesus must increase and pastors must decrease. This is the difficult way, and few pastors are willing to endure that journey, on the road marked with suffering that often leads to personal exile (e.g. Moses at Midian; David at Adullam; Elijah in hiding; etc.). It is paradoxical to see the mega church, television pastor as ideal. Most of those types are charlatans. The small church pastor in South Dakota, loving God’s Word because he loves Jesus more than self…he is the real deal. Like John the Baptist, his assignment is wilderness obscurity.
Obscurity is a great test from the Lord. It serves alongside poverty, as an instrument of refining the beloved under-shepherd. Moses was obscure outside of Egypt. David was a better man, while in obscurity. The glory day of Elijah was brief, and then came obscurity. In fact, the phrase “of biblical proportion” is far smaller than most want to admit. “Small” and “obscure” are not prominent ministry terms at big pastor-hosted conferences.
At these events, little pastors come to hear big pastors tell their secrets of how these great men of God grew Christ’s church for Him. It is nothing short of blasphemy. Otherwise, the conference would be marked by brevity, “This is what happened…clearly, it was God who did it…I don’t know how He did it…He is awesome like that…thank you for your attention. That is all.”
“A calling to suffer,” is not the marketing slogan for most seminaries or mission agencies, although the latter may be a bit more honest. Men want to be big and great, and now women have forsaken their homes and families, for glory and fame of church leadership, too. It is as if the devil himself has taken on the role of recruiting director for the church.
God, of course, has no problem with the devil, as the church’s human resources director, either. The Lord Himself will use the enemy’s deception of ministry leaders to sift them. Trouble is looming for pastors, and all of them will be sifted like Peter or Job. Therefore, it is wise to discourage young, ambitious souls, seeking the ministry. That is, until they are approved in the Word and through experiential testing, under the pastoral care of the local church.
Having been refined as silver and gold, the man of God will stay the course, prepared for him by the Lord. He will not leave his first love, Jesus. He will fight the good fight of faith…come what may. He will labor in obscurity and poverty, with the wife of his youth. Together, they will nurture their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They will give their gifts to the church, regardless of positional titles, or worse, idolatrous quantifiers used in pastoral job performance reviews.
Pastor, it was surely an act of God for you to have read this article because I am a living example of obscurity in ministry. If you do happen upon these words, please know you are loved and appreciated (if you need someone to give you a box of books sometime, let me know). God’s grace, in appointed sanctification experiences, are for you to see the truth of the Bible. Your best Comforter will always be the encouraging Spirit of Christ (Jn 14:26). Therefore, do what you preach. Stay constant in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.
The Word and prayer will be your comfort, but they are also training you for the next battlefield, prepared beforehand, for you to be outmatched, again, for the sole purpose of learning that the battle belongs to the Lord.
Spokane Valley, Washington
October 25, 2022