Pastors: Play the Long Game and Keep Your Chins Up

The ministry is a tricky thing for pastors. When things seem to go well, we can be tempted to think we have it all together, and when a rocky patch emerges, we can feel like total failures.

The fulcrum in both scenarios reveals the problem: our selfishness. Isn’t this a commentary on the deceptiveness of the heart? Ministers who preach the sovereignty of God and labor for the glory of God can be found huddling in the shade of our own Babel or the dust cloud of personal disappointment.

Too often we as pastors get caught up in measuring our faithfulness by reading the church’s stat sheet. Like those in politics and business, we can go up and down based on how we look on paper. In the church, inordinate attention is placed on offerings, attendance, baptisms, and professions of faith. It seems neither healthy nor wise to hitch our understanding of faithfulness solely to the wagon of statistics.

Measuring the success of one’s service based primarily on what we can see is deceptive because most of the fruit in our ministry is in things that are unseen. We often can’t hear the idols fall to the floor when the gospel takes root. We miss the budding flowers of spiritual leadership in previously immature men. We are not privy to the loving conversations and prayers among the ladies in the church. We likely won’t perceive the effect of the Word in the life of a young child who is being trained for a lifetime in global missions by listening to us preach and watching us live. But looking back, how often have we been surprised by the work of God in our midst?

I’m reminded of the simple words spoken by another preacher, John the Baptist. “I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). At its most simple, God does not need us. This has to be the most refreshing rebuke I’ve ever received.

God doesn’t need pastors, but he uses us. He can build the church from a bunch of rocks and likely could use a bunch of rocks to build it. Where is the pride here? And where is the discouragement?

Instead, brothers, focus on the promises of God (he will build his church on the ministry of the Word—Matt. 16:18ff; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 4:2ff). And, focus on the work he has called you to do (faithfully pastor his flock—1 Pet. 5:1-4; 1 Cor. 4:2).

Play the long game and keep your chin up. Have the pastoral job description at hand and remind yourself of it. If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and focusing primarily on what we are called to do, then we can be safeguarded against pride in seasons of prosperity and despair during the difficult times. This will certainly free us up to rejoice in God’s sovereignty to make a people for himself—even by means of such unlikely materials.

Editor's Note: This originally published at The Gospel Coalition.