The Longest Years of Ministry

Courage for Weary Pastors

I don’t need to rehearse the weighty reasons why many of us pastors are feeling depleted, disheartened, fed up. We might still be smiling on the outside. But inside, it’s often a different story. Obviously, one article can’t fix it all. But maybe I can say something here that, by God’s grace, will strengthen a brother’s weary hands. Three thoughts are flooding my mind for you, in ascending order of priority.

1. Gut It Out

My first point is not the most important one. But still, as a pastor who himself has been beaten up along the way, I have to say this. Brother, gut it out! We must. In this world, which is going to stay broken until Jesus comes back, we must get up tomorrow morning and make life happen, and do our jobs, and advance the ministry — and then get up the next morning, and do it all over again.

What’s the alternative? Quitting? No way! We are not going to surrender our calling to Satan just because we’re suffering. He’s suffering too. Satan can read. He knows what the Bible says. He knows his doom is sure. And he sees his doom in you: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Yes, under your feet. But that wretched loser, in his malice and rage, wants to bring you down while he’s going down. That’s why he wants you to feel defeated — so that you’ll quit, so that he can gloat.

“We’re weary and weak and winning, by the unbeatable power of the risen Christ in us.”

Don’t you see how we’re winning? We’re weary and weak and winning, by the unbeatable power of the risen Christ in us. So, no way are we going to budge even one inch from our God-given advantage as faithful ministers of the gospel. Like football players, we play hurt. Pain is just part of the game. We even like it that way. When it’s late in the fourth quarter, and we’re all bloody and bruised and sweaty and exhausted, but we keep running the plays, we know we’re real football players. And in these longest years, we pastors know we’re real soldiers of the cross. We’re not sitting on the bench. We’re in the game.

Serving Jesus faithfully, pushing through the pain, feels good. Giving Satan a really bad day feels good. My brother pastor, when I think about you ruggedly putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward day after day, as the strength of Christ is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), I almost feel sorry for the devil! Almost.

So, let’s gut it out.

2. Dig Deeper, Risk Honesty

John 1:16 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” There is nothing small about Jesus. He has fullness of grace upon grace for our need upon need. Our risen Lord above, at this very moment, is not tired, and he’s not tired of you. You can dig deeper into his grace, deeper than you’ve ever dug before, and you will never touch bottom.

You will never ask too much of him. You will never ask too often. He will never respond to you with an eye roll and say, “Really? You again? This is the nineteenth time just today you’ve come back asking for more strength. What is your problem?” No, that’s what we’re like. Let’s never project onto him our own pettiness. He has fullness of grace for you, moment by moment. Go to him. Go back to him. Never stop going back to him. He is always happy to welcome you and help you — the real you.

Which raises another point. As you are going deeper into his endless grace, why not share that adventure with your people? Their lives are no carnival thrill ride, either. They are suffering too. So maybe there’s a Sunday coming up soon when you can risk transparency and vulnerability with your people at church. Maybe there’s an appropriate moment when you can go before them and say something like this:

Friends, I think this church needs a new pastor. And I’d like to be that new pastor. I want to change. I want to go deeper with Jesus. Please pray for me. And maybe you’d like to go there with me. I can’t right now foresee how it will all play out. But my status quo sure isn’t working for me. How about you? Can we together walk in newness of life, one step at a time? How about joining me here at the front of the church right after this service? Let’s give our need to the Lord in prayer. He will be glad to bless us!

A pastor who digs deeper into the grace of Jesus and risks honesty with his people — you can be that pastor. Go for it!

3. Watch God Flip Your Low Moment

One of the surprising themes in the Bible is “redemptive reversals,” to quote my friend Greg Beale. The point is, God moves in counterintuitive ways. Our grandiosity flops, and his “failures” save the world. Our wisdom flunks, and his “foolishness” outsmarts the experts. Our ministries hit the wall, and his “weakness” breaks through. In the Bible, it’s obvious. But in our lives, we often have to experience it before we really believe it.

When we start our ministry journey, we love Jesus, of course. But understanding him more deeply might go something like this: You answer his call, go to seminary, pastor a church, preach the gospel in a biblical, positive way, and people start lighting up! Well, most people light up. Others start freaking out. As the Lord puts his hand of blessing on your church, moving in and taking over — that is not what some people bargained for when they called you. And their unhappiness is your fault, of course. You are the new factor in “their church.” So you are the problem, even the enemy. And you’re thinking, “Wait, what?” But that’s just for starters.

Then a presidential election gets people riled up. Add to that, racist violence and tribal hatred and online rancor. Then pile on the pandemic and lockdowns and masks and vaccines and Zoom meetings and livestream preaching and more political craziness — and your pastoral capacities are beyond maxed out. All of which leads you, not to a dead end, but to a threshold: redemptive reversal.

“These hard years you’ve struggled through are not the end of your ministry. They can be the beginning of your real ministry.”

These hard years you’ve struggled through are not the end of your ministry. They can be the beginning of your real ministry. Your disaster is not the defeat of God’s purpose for you. It can be the fulfillment of God’s purpose for you. Your best days in ministry may still lie ahead. I know. The Lord did this for me. And I’m nobody special, just another pastor like you, like so many. But all of us serve a very surprising Savior.

If you will dare to believe it, defying every reason to give up, you will find yourself closer to the heart of God than you’ve ever been before. And for the rest of your life, you will have something to offer suffering people that is deep, profound, life-giving. You will offer them a hope that is convincing, durable, undefeatable — by God’s grace, for his glory alone.

God be with you, brothers, as you take your next step forward.