Dealing With the Sorrows and Discouragements of Pastoral Ministry

Sorrows and discouragements seem to be orbiting in another galaxy when preparing for ministry. The positive elements of a thriving church, growing and cooperating at every point, preaching great sermons, and leading a willing congregation consume the mind. Yet after getting past the infamous “honeymoon stage” of a pastorate, the pastor discovers that he and some members of the congregation operate from different playbooks. The pastor moves one direction and they move in another. Conflicts and disagreements arise. Sins dusted over when candidating become fully visible. Festering relational wounds produce a stench. And now the weight of the title, “pastor,” fits squarely on the shoulders of a man who hoped pastoral ministry would not look this way.

In my first pastorate, I didn’t know until six months in that two ladies sitting across the single aisle every Sunday were sisters who had not spoken to each other in years. In another, no one told me that one of the deacons and his wife lived separately for years. In yet another, I didn’t know that with every odd numbered pastor the church split. I was number seven. In my present pastorate, I failed to realize that planting a church could not change hearts intent on cultural Christianity. Sorrows and discouragements followed each. I didn’t always deal well with them. But the Lord kindly showed grace along the way to learn a few lessons to bear up and serve steadily when they came. Here are five lessons that I commend to you.

First, you are a steward not the owner of the church. Pastors often say, “My church.” That’s understandable as a point of identification. Yet we become too familiar with that little claim of ownership. It’s not ours. It belongs to Christ (Matt 16:18). He bears the weight of the church. He invites us into the yoke with Him rather than trying to harness the load ourselves (Matt 11:28–30). We must concern ourselves with faithfulness in life and doctrine, diligence in caring for the flock, and a growing reliance upon the Head of the Church (1 Tim 4:16; Col 4:17). Leave the ownership to Him.

Second, you cannot change anyone but you can direct people to the One who can. I like to fix problems. I guess that it goes with the territory and the title. Yet that mindset—as nice as it sounds—can be a millstone around the neck. Yes, there are little problems that we’re able to “fix” by wise counsel. Then bigger problems arise—the kind that causes sorrow and disappointment. We try to “fix” them and things only seem worse. We feel weighed down. Here’s what we must realize: Jesus Christ doesn’t call pastors to be fixers but faithful messengers. What if all of the “fixing” were left to us? What a mess we would make! We do not perfectly know another’s heart, so our judgment in a situation could be perfectly off course. But not that of our Lord Jesus who binds up the broken hearted with His love and care. Instead of fixers, pastors must work on being dependable messengers of the good news. That means that, by the grace of God, we labor to model the Christian life by being an example of a believer, that we’re clear on the gospel and its application, that we discharge our responsibilities with gentleness and holy fear, and that we give ourselves to prayer as well as the ministry of the Word (1 Tim 4:12–13; 2 Tim 2:24–26; Titus 1:9; Acts 6:2).

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SOURCE: Founders Ministries, Inc.
Phil Newton

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