The Painfully Precious Gift of Pastoral Weakness

by Stephen McDonald February 24, 2022

The rising sun illuminated the sky above my head in incredible hues of purple, pink, orange, and red that danced across the sky, which was awaiting the sun to pierce the horizon and warm the sand beneath my feet. It was a picture-perfect early summer morning at the beach, but my heart churned wildly as if tossed about by a violent storm at sea.

Fear of what the future would hold ravaged my heart. Self-doubt paralyzed me. The sadness of painful past ministry experiences and lost relationships tormented me. Grief over my own sin was closer to me than my shadow. It seemed as if these feelings that were once sporadic visitors of my heart had unpacked and were now freeloading, and I didn’t know how to get rid of them.

As I walked the beach that beautiful morning, I rehearsed all the reasons that I felt I was in over my head in pastoral ministry. I was convinced that the problems my church was facing were beyond my capabilities. I was certain that any wisdom, gifts, or positives that I brought to the table were easily negated by my leadership weaknesses, lacking pastoral skills, and crippling fear of man. And I was right. God gave me the painfully precious gift of showing me that I was in over my head.

That morning, and many mornings afterwards, the Lord showed me that I could not build the church in my own strength. Of greater significance, the Lord showed me that I could not build his church in my own strength.

In the kindness of holding up the mirror and exposing my own insufficiency, God allowed me to look through a window of his grace to see his sufficiency.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 became a life raft that I clung to in the violent storm of my doubts, fears, and grief:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Fellow pastor, allow your haunting sense of weakness to be the vehicle that drives you to trust in God’s strength for you in the resurrected Jesus.

Do you feel overwhelmed and fearful in your evangelism? Do you struggle with a sense of feebleness and powerlessness when it comes to your preaching? Do you continually second guess yourself and yearn for reassurance that you are doing something (or anything) right? Do you look at the Facebook pages of church members and wonder whether or not you have it in you to shepherd the church through the political and cultural polarization that is ripping too many churches apart? Do you feel as if you get home each day with an empty tank and nothing left to give to your family?

If you found yourself nodding in the affirmative with any (or all) of these questions, that’s exactly the point. We have this treasure (Christ) in jars of clay (ourselves) so that we would trust him and not ourselves. Your weakness can either drive you to despair or be your servant in shining the spotlight on the sufficiency of Christ.

Before you pray that God would bring you out of whatever it is that cripples you as you serve him, pray that he would glorify himself through these weaknesses.

Brother pastor, may you find mercy that helps you rest in the fact that our God, who causes the sun to rise and tells the waves of the ocean how far they can reach on the shore, will be glorified through those of us whom he has tasked with shepherding his people. He is the treasure that has come to us. In your weakness, your church will be well-served to see Christ at work in you, it is Christ who far outshines the most beautiful of sunrises. 

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