That which makes us weak in ourselves makes us dependent upon Christ.
This paradoxical truth is at the heart of Christianity and applies to all believers. After all, is true faith characterized by having circumstances comfortable and relationships trouble-free, or is faith about the ability to trust through times of chaos and challenge? I think you know the answer. Just re-read Hebrews 11 if you need help.
Yet, many of us would prefer a pain-free kind of existence— which means, according to the Word of God, a faith-absent kind of life. We would instead embrace comfort in life’s circumstances and adequacy in our own resources. Life this way is simpler and easier, but it is not a life of dependence upon Jesus.
What is true for all believers is amplified to a greater degree for those in vocational ministry— particularly pastors. That’s because when you are involved in daily “spiritual” work there are expectations for proper behavior among Christians and for proper functioning of the church. It’s unlike any other job on the earth. Ministry is filled with complexities, tensions and spiritual ambitions, and the vast majority of well-intentioned pastors carry deep burdens for the health of their churches and the spiritual welfare of their people. They want to be effective in the Kingdom of God and they desire their people to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
So for pastors, there are unique points of dependence upon Jesus that should be highlighted. Bringing them to the surface helps them pray over these areas (and their people for them); helps normalize these matters (there is strength in knowing you’re not the only one facing them); allows pastors to become more self-aware of the emotions they battle (that which stays in darkness gains more power to harm); and navigate these spheres of trust by the Holy Spirit’s power.
The Now and the Not Yet
Nothing created more discontent in me as a pastor than believing in what was possible to achieve and then having to wait for it to come about. I had to grow comfortable with the tension between embracing the good of the now and the yearning for the not yet. There never seemed to be enough human and financial resources in the moment. Yet in time, God provided both. It may have not been everything wanted in the present-tense, but it was everything needed. For me, it was a matter of trusting God by being patient and being OK with the difference between what I’d like to see done and what can be done in the moment. Pastor, trust God in this tension.
I Can’t, but He Can
Surveys reveal that most pastors feel that they are inadequate when it comes to the skills, leadership and emotional resources necessary for the job. Exactly! The partnership between us and the Holy Spirit means that we do our very best with what God has already given us in the form of competencies, and we trust Him to do that which is beyond our ability. Better said, our skills are expressed in the power of the Holy Spirit and when we feel our portion falls short, God works through our inadequacies and continues His eternal work beyond them. This is specifically the place of trust where the Father wants us to reside. I can’t, but He can. Ultimately, our confidence is not in our abilities, but in the God who works beyond them.
Faithfulness vs. Fruit
While the vast majority of pastors are sincere and altruistic, there are moments when desires to succeed in ministry can become misguided and more about self-ambition... even without knowing it. For me, this became expressed in seasons of subconscious striving and crossing lines of trying to make things happen. It was the difference between being driven, which is of the flesh, and simply expressing my gifts, my love, my energies and resting in God for the results. It’s about the need for control, and the focus on faithfulness or an obsession with fruit. Here are some ways this preoccupation with outcomes is manifested:
A focus on what works as opposed to what’s right (moral shortcuts)
False courage where that which labelled “faith” is actually presumption— not trusting God, but testing Him.
The urgency of now and the inability to wait.
Energies and priorities toward numeric growth as opposed to spiritual health
Obtaining a following as opposed to remaining obedient to God
Attracting church attenders instead of developing disciples of Jesus
Trusting God here means focusing primarily upon and falling in love with the process of pastoring, and being content with the idea of letting God bring fruit. While never used as an excuse for laziness, not growing or learning new skills, your job pastor is faith and faithfulness. God’s job is fruit.
Conflict and What To Do
Nothing emotionally drains pastors more than the matter of conflict in church. It is the primary reason many leave churches or ministry altogether. It is a regular part of congregational life as it occurs between people in the church, between staff members... and between people and staff with the pastor. My strongest moments of dependence upon God came in times when I had to decide whether to engage conflict or not, and moments when I actually did. I prayed for courage, wisdom, calm, the right words to say, and the right heart to say them. Pastor, your intimacy with the Father and your faith in Him to see you through will be deeply enhanced through conflict. See conflict with spiritual eyes. Go into it with bold courage confident in the fact that the Father is with you. Learn from it. Grow from it. Trust God in it.
Failure and Success
Many pastors struggle with the feeling of failure in ministry. This is mostly due to harmful patterns of comparing, contrasting and competing with others in ministry. Beyond that, there are real moments when we fail as pastors and leaders. Times when we didn’t live up to our own expectations or those of others. Times when we blew it and experienced major blunders. Pastor— you’re human. People will expect perfection of you. You might even expect of it of yourself. You will mess up. At times, problems will be your fault. Confess quickly. Let God forgive you quickly. Forgive yourself quickly... and move on. Trust here means applying the ointment of God’s grace to your soul and finding power in Christ to put the mistake behind you. Satan wants your blunder to stay lodged in your heart. Don’t let it.
The above represent tensions to manage, not problems to solve. Where you will not find resolution, but instead strength. Yet, they are exactly the matters where trust in Jesus can be most evident and where God’s glory can be manifested in you. Unresolved, ambiguous and sometimes anxiety-ridden areas are precisely the places where God meets you. By faith, you will see God’s glory through them.