I was struck the other day by the uniquely odd situation of the almost-an-apostle Joseph (Barsabbas), who missed out on being one of the twelve set apart as apostles of Jesus because of a roll of the dice. We read his story in Acts 1. The resurrected Jesus has told his disciples to wait on the Spirit’s arrival. They were gathered to pray, and they decided it was time to replace the traitor Judas, who had literally spilled his guts over his betrayal. So, his position was up for grabs.
It was kind of like when someone leaves their job, and everyone wants to fight over their office because it has a window. But this was a lot more important. In Acts, the disciples set the criteria for who would be chosen, and they land on two possible candidates: Joseph and Matthias. They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. This, of course, had to be a downer to Joseph.
Sure, you can play the hyper-spiritual game if you want, and say something like, “It wouldn’t really have mattered to me as long as the mission of Jesus was advanced.” And of course, that would be partially true. But let’s be honest—a part of you would have been disappointed. Part of you would have wanted to argue for a “best two out of three” lot cast rather than a single cast. You might have made a case that there should be thirteen apostles instead of twelve so that you could be the deciding vote in a tie. Imagine Joseph explaining that one to his family years later when his grandkids say, “Pops, tell us again about the time you almost got to be an apostle.”
I joke, of course, but I also know that many pastors feel overlooked, especially early in ministry. We wonder why we aren’t selected for more. We feel like we are qualified, we are available, and we are excited, yet we are overlooked and someone else is chosen. We may wonder if something is wrong with us, wonder if we need greater faith, wonder if God has a plan for us. Rarely do we give voice to these internal questions, but most pastors I know experience some form of these feelings. In a world of professional ministry and celebrity pastors, it is far too common for us to equate success or influence with faithfulness.
During my seminary years, I remember being excited to meet a pastor with whom I shared some mutual history. I thought it would be a good connection, maybe even leading to a job when I graduated. I introduced myself, and he awkwardly blew me off. On an elevator. In front to people. It’s funny to me now, but I remember feeling overlooked in the moment.
Many situations can bring these feelings:
You do not get included in a certain circle of pastors at a conference
You do not get the ministry job you so badly wanted
You get fired from the church that you loved and served and taught so faithfully
Your church doesn’t grow
Your friends leave the church for a new one across town
These circumstances bring real pain and struggle, and too often, our feelings of being overlooked push us to question whether God has forgotten us. In such moments, I find these fatherly words of encouragement remind me of the true nature of pastoral calling:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (2 Timothy 2:1-6)
This is a back-to-basics pep talk for pastors. Here are three reminders for times when you are feeling overlooked.
Be Overcome by Grace (Verse 1)
Keep your eyes on the gospel. Enjoy grace. Remember to laugh at how good God has been to you. The gospel has a way of recalibrating our hearts, so that we are not fixated on our position or place in the world. It reminds us that we have not been overlooked, but we have been overcome by the grace of God. Let the love of Jesus captivate you, breathe new life into you, strengthen you.
Make Disciples by Grace (Verse 2)
Lean into relationship with the emerging leaders in your ministry. These faithful men will be an encouragement. Honor Jesus with your commitment to “go and make disciples” of them. Walk by grace yourself (verse 1), and then teach those in front of you to walk by grace (verse 2). In doing so, you will multiply grace-captivated people who share in the mission of Jesus.
Work Hard by Grace (Verses 3-6)
Remember that we are more grunts than glamour boys, more shepherds than superstars. Go to work. Work like a soldier, completing the task in front of you, trying to please your commander. Work like an athlete, training hard, readying yourself for competition rather than complaining about your circumstances. Work like a farmer, tilling soil, planting seeds, and trusting that stuff will one day grow.
So, roll up your sleeves, put in a good day’s work, and put your head on your pillow tonight resting in God’s grace and trusting in God’s plan. Do it again tomorrow. Do it again until that great day comes when you hear your Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” On that day, you will enter the joy of your Master, and you will know without any doubt that you have not been overlooked.