It seems an odd thing to call pastors to believe God’s word—isn’t that what we spend our lives calling other people to do? And yet the reality is that sometimes those who are in vocational ministry are the ones who struggle the most to believe what God said.
Take me for example. I recently transitioned out of the first church where I was a pastor. I was confident that the Lord was leading me into a new work, but I was also deeply discouraged that after almost 5 years I had little to show for my ministry. I did everything I knew to do (preached expositional sermons, built relationships with people, made the gospel clear on a regular basis). Nevertheless, the baptistry waters were not stirred, our membership consistently declined over time (along with the budget), and I felt like I was running on a hamster wheel. I knew that Paul promised that our labor in ministry is never in vain (1 Cor 15:58) and God promised that his word always accomplishes the purpose he has for it (Is 55:10-11). But it seemed that my tenure (while producing some wonderful friendships with our members) resulted in nothing of eternal spiritual value. I even began to wonder whether something was wrong with me and whether I should reconsider if vocational ministry was truly God’s plan for my life.
Then on my last Sunday evening, the church held a final fellowship to say goodbye. There was the expected cake and punch and picture taking. But then an unexpected open mic time came when people were invited to share what my ministry had meant to them. And one by one, my members revealed how much they benefitted from my preaching, or how much it meant to them when I showed up at a particularly difficult moment for them. One girl poured out her heart about how God had used me to help her fall in love with the church. And I—well I just about lost it as my throat clamped down and tears came to my eyes.
All this time I was struggling with no idea that I was making such an impact on these people and that the Lord was, in fact, at work in their hearts and lives through my ministry. But there it was, incontrovertible evidence that no matter how things may have appeared on the surface, God was moving. As ashamed as I am for doubting, I am so grateful to the Lord for this gracious reminder and confirmation. Now as I begin my ministry at a new church, I have a fresh perspective and appreciation for this old conviction that will sustain me through the inevitable ups and downs that come with pastoral work.
Brothers, even in your discouragement (or especially in your discouragement!), believe God’s word! Our labor is not in vain, and God’s word will accomplish the purpose he has for it. However fruitless your ministry may appear on the outside, the Lord is at work through your faithfulness—and in time we all will come to see that he has done far more than we could ever have thought or imagined!