Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Six Reasons I'm NOT About to Quit: Counting As JOY Christ's Wise and Sanctifying Providence in the Ministry

So, a man whom I have been underwhelmed by in his church-planting and cultural-expertise guru-ship has published yet another article about how hard and horrible it is to be in ministry. I see articles like this from time to time. And I do have some sympathy with them (though I wonder how much of it is fleshly rather than of grace).

But, how is the necessity of applying gospel gratitude any different for pastors than it is for believers in every other calling? And, just in case any of our dear congregation happen to read the original article or something like it and worry/wonder if their own pastor feels this way, I want to be on the record expressing my gratitude to God for them and appreciation for their love of Him and of me as His servant among them.

Six reasons I'm NOT about to quit:
1. The difficulties of this year have decluttered my focus, driving me to renewed dependence upon Christ's grace and simplified dedication to doing just whatever He says He employs to impart this grace in His prescriptions for worship and discipleship. I hope that the sanctifying/maturing influence of the troubles is maintained to me by grace, even after this weird season ends. God grant that it would be so.

2. Disagreements are opportunities for grace. Reconciliation is a reality already accomplished in Christ. We've had folks with various strong opinions, who have yet treated one another with charity, and borne patiently with decisions that they did not agree with. They also appreciated that rather than continually doubling down on previous decisions, our elders have responded under Scripture to observable reality, rather than cultural rhetoric. People thinking of and treating one another graciously under difficult circumstances has been a huge blessing to us. If they hadn't been, then the fault wouldn't really be in the circumstances, would it? It's not a terrible thing when some circumstance allows us to see and deal with remaining sin in ourselves or in our children. The gospel has the remedy, and the law (including all Scriptural instruction) has the method by which to apply it. Trust Christ, and do what the One you trust says to do.

3. The people in the pews aren't ours to lose. I have spent my entire ministerial life trying to stop my fleshly fear of "losing people" while distinguishing my grief over their spiritual self-harm from my and the congregation's discouragement over newly empty spots in the worship room. So, if this was happening, I don't see why it would suddenly make me bail now, when the Lord has mercifully sustained me against my sin in this area for so long. For many years, I've been able to thank God for the unique privilege of training up those whom He then sent to strengthen other congregations, some of whom didn't even realize how much better their doctrine or practice was as result of the ministry they were now rejecting, but many others of whom were simply moving to a new location and ready to take Christ-delighted dependence and devotion to the means of grace to a place where their minister/elders/congregation would much benefit. Things have been reversed recently, as the worship room has never been fuller than it has been the last three months. I do worry for their churches and actively try to encourage those who are sojourning with us to do right by their current memberships. But, if this can't be a means by which their home churches reform, I'm not sure it's a terrible thing for starving and atrophied sheep to come out from under fleshly worship, watered down discipleship, and worldly outreach.

4. Stability comes from God the Provider, not the current level of His provision. We never know if our particular church is going to be able to support us financially in the future. All earthly security is a delusion; God forgive us. 20th/21st century American Christians and pastors are spoiled. We don't know what it is to pray with feeling "give us this day our daily bread." Financial stability is an illusion that sprouts wings. Sure, be wise, but do not be anxious, and remember to be thankful. Also, this congregation gives likes crazy and is committed to taking care of us. I'm even more spoiled than the average American Christian/pastor.

5. Criticism is an opportunity to drive out fear of man by fear of the Lord. Church planting and mission work was something like being repeatedly hammered in war when it came to getting to hear "what people really thought" of me. Sometimes, I felt truly battered. That applied, too, to the first couple years during the transition period here. The only way to survive it is to cling to Christ, and to aim by the Spirit at what pleases the Father, while sure of His pleasure for the sake of His Son. But our congregation now seems so determined to express their appreciation and affection for me and for the ministry here that I am often embarrassed before the Lord for how easily I take any disagreement or criticism to heart, after the riches that He has given us in this regard recently.

6. Overwork or underwork isn't the issue so much as working at making sure that worship is primary. I've never in my ministerial life been able to do everything that I have wanted to. The Lord gets me through the "must do" list, and sometimes even into the "should do" list, but I hardly ever get to think about the "would like to do" list. For me, the key has basically always been to keep personal, family, and public worship in the "must do" list—especially to make sure that the Lord's Day is my Sabbath of spiritual renewal in the Lord Himself.

I have basically worked on pastoring my congregation or pastoring my family from eyes open to eyes shut since I entered the ministry. We have sweet family worship several times a day, and sweet Sabbath-refreshment and Sabbath-delight for a full day every week. Vacations, time-off, down-time, entertainment... up until a century ago, that was basically something that marked the lives of the ultra-elite, which was never a spiritual help to them anyway. Yes, there are built-in changes of pace and activity in life, but at the end of the day, I never really could do more work than I was already doing. Even typing this out has been an intentional spiritual exercise for myself, and hopefully beneficial to those who read it. 

God be praised for the rhythms He has commanded into our lives, and the blessedness of following His instruction.

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