Surviving or Thriving in Ministry

Ministry, in general, and the pastorate specifically, can be a joy or a grind.

Ministry, in general, and the pastorate specifically, can be a joy or a grind.  Those of us in pastoral ministry tend to blame the flock if it’s a grind and pat ourselves on the back if it’s a joy.  In reality, it’s not about the flock. I realize that some flocks are easier to shepherd than others.  I realize that some days it’s a grind and some days ministry is a joy.  But when we consider a body of work, what is the overall view?  Has your ministry been a joy or a grind?  In the big view of things, it’s not about the flock; it’s about you.  Jesus died to deliver me from me so that He could live through me. That is true for you as well. That means the ministry isn’t about my satisfaction or happiness.  It’s not about the flocks satisfaction or happiness. The ministry is all about the work of God through you, and so the point is to thrive in that ministry rather than just survive.  I think there are five activities that need to be true in the lives of those who minister to thrive.  When these aren’t true, we are merely grinding our way through our days of ministry.  That’s a tragedy!

1. Preach the Word!

2 Timothy 4:1-5, I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.1

This exhortation to young Timothy is as relevant to us in the modern era as it was in the first century.  We live in an age of great apostasy, some of which is very subtle.  It is so easy for pastors to get sucked into the spirit of the age and leave the fundamentals of the pastorate, that being Biblical preaching!  The truth of the Word of God is always relevant; it never becomes outdated.  Yes, sometimes the truth of the Word hurts, but only for a season.  When it has accomplished its perfect work, the true disciple will receive it as intended, the work of the Holy Spirit.  As a minister, you are an opportunity in the body for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  If the sound teaching of the Word is rejected, don’t take it personally.  They aren’t rejecting you; they are rejecting Christ.  So preach the Word without fear and see what God will do. 

I think Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus are instructive to us. 

Acts 26:16 & 18, But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”1

What a sacred calling we have.  What a glorious task, to be used of God to transform lives.  That is why 2 Corinthians 5:19is so precious to us.  That is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.1

He has committed to us, those who preach the Word, the ministry of reconciliation!  This is not about reconciling men to men, but men to God!  What an awesome and holy calling.  If God has called you to this, He will empower you for the task.  As you are empowered for the task of preaching, the Word of God will be at work in you first.  As you minister the Word by the power of the Spirit, you will find great satisfaction in your ministry because it’s not about you, but about God in you. 

2. Keep yourself in love with Jesus.

Philemon 4-7, I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers,  hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.1

What was the first characteristic that Paul praised in the life of Philemon?  His love toward the Lord Jesus!  It’s so easy in ministry to get our eyes off the prize. The prize is not glory nor fame, nor fortune, nor full pews.  The prize is knowing Jesus and loving Him well.  When we love Jesus well, we love ourselves little.  That sort of love results in what we see in Philemon, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” 

While loving Jesus allows us to love the flock well, it also help us to endure the hardships of life and ministry. 

1 Peter 1:7-8, That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.1

Don’t miss what Peter is saying here.  Even in those times of testing, our heart issues are what really matter.  It seems that testing just brings out what is really in our hearts.  So, if we love Jesus well, if we love Him more than anything or anybody, when the time of testing comes (and it will), the character of Christ in us will come to the forefront. When we keep ourselves in love with Jesus, we thrive in ministry despite our circumstances. 

Jude 21, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.1

3. Guard your heart.

One of the dangers of ministry is becoming cynical. The problem with shepherding is that we shepherd sheep not doves. Sometimes, sheep can be blessing; and sometimes, sheep can run over you. If you get run over a couple of times you start putting up walls and expecting the worst.  Your view of the church becomes tainted and “stinkin’ thinkin’” rules the mind.  If we go back to our quote from Philemon, the second characteristic Paul praised was Philemon’s love for the saints!  “Hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,”

Paul also said of Philemon that he was a blessing to the saints. “For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” 

It’s hard to refresh the saints if we have hard hearts towards God’s people.  There is a constant need to check our attitudes in ministry. Paul wrote the following to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.1

If we are going to conduct ourselves well in the house of God, we have to make sure our hearts are open to God’s work in us first that we might be used of the Spirit to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi, which would include their shepherds.  Philippians 4:1, Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.1

While they were standing fast against oppression, we as pastors sometimes must stand fast against our own thinking. Negative thinking does not further the Kingdom of God. 

1 Peter 1:22, Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.1

This applies to us as pastors as well as to the congregation. Maybe even more so. 

4. Crown the True King!

We have been called to shepherd the flock, not to be the “king of the hill.” 

1 Peter 5:2-4, Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.1

Peter exhorts elders to shepherd with a correct attitude, that being love for God’s people, not a pay check.  He also explains that we are not the “Lord” over the flock; we are simply God’s shepherd for that flock.  He is the “head” shepherd; we are under Him.  I have seen pastors who were convinced they were doing God’s work; but in reality it was their work all along.  It was their pulpit, their church, their kingdom; and if any one rocked the boat, it was their way or the highway.  How tragic!  We are called to lead the flock, not drive it.  We are not the sovereign over God’s people; He is. After all He is the one who died to save His own.  We didn’t. 

I think sometimes pastors get caught up in the hype.  They take to heart all the praise that comes following a Sunday service and really think it’s about them when in reality they are being praised for what the Holy Spirit is doing in the hearts of men and women.  While you have been a blessing to the flock, you are not the one who blesses.  It is God who is doing the work; you are just the hammer in the Master’s hand.  Appreciate that you are appreciated, but don’t buy into the hype. 

Satan’s downfall was that he became proud and lofty and thus, lost his way.  His thought-process is recorded in Scripture. Isaiah 14:14, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ 1

I’m afraid that sometime we as pastors have this same attitude. We are convinced we are doing the Lord’s work when in reality we are serving ourselves.  We need to place the crown on its rightful head. The crown belongs to Jesus, not us.

Matthew 23:12, And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.1 We need to take this to heart. We can’t expect to thrive in ministry when we usurp God’s crown.  Instead we should live out a previous truth found in the same gospel. Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.1

This doesn’t just apply to our secular life, but our spiritual and ecclesiastical life as well. Seek God’s kingdom above your own and you will thrive in ministry. 

5. Know when to walk away

This concept cover two separate aspects of ministry, living in ministry and leaving a ministry.  As we think of living in ministry it’s important that you don’t live and breathe ministry. We need distraction from ministry or we will burn out early.  I think it’s important to have outside interests that occupy your mind. Some pastors hunt or fish, some like to play soft ball.  I enjoyed homing pigeons.  Whatever the hobby, do something besides ministry or you will go crazy!  But be aware that hobbies can become idols!  Don’t let that happen. 

I realize that as a pastor you are always on call, and that is as it should be.  But you need to limit those who will continually demand your time.  They will eat you up. Don’t let 5% of your flock take up 95% of your time. Learn to say “No” gracefully, for your sake, your family’s sake, and for the sake of the high maintenance member.

You also need to take time to rest and rejuvenate spiritually.  Psalm 23:1-3, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.1

Let Jesus lead you so you can lead the flock!  Take some time off.  Take time to rest.  Take time to pray.  Learn to be quiet. 

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”1 This is a wonderful promise from Jesus to us, but please note there is a yoke to be taken.  That means we come under His tutorship continually and find rest. 

I love what God said to Moses in Exodus 33:14, And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”1

That is exactly what we want.

The second aspect of walking away is literally walking away, leaving a ministry.  Sometimes pastors leave because they just can’t take it anymore. The flock has treated them badly and they are hurting and battered and have had enough. Make sure you aren’t leaving for the wrong reasons. Leaving should be about the calling of God.  He called you to this ministry and He will call you to another. If God is moving you on, then embrace it, but don’t run from a difficult pastorate.  God may be making you restless because the flock needs someone else’s gifts for this particular body and another flock my need your specific gifts.  Be aware of the moving of the Spirit in your life.  Where God is leading you, follow.  If He leads you to stay, then stay; and if He leads you to move on, do so graciously and leave the flock healthier then you found it. 

2 Peter 3:13-14, Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;[1]

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (2 Pe 3:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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