Weary. Discouraged. Broken-hearted. Ready to throw in the towel. Burned out. Feeling like a failure. These are words I’ve heard, and in truth, felt during my ministry. American pastors are so indoctrinated in our western world instant gratification culture that despair and discouragement are tangible whenever results are delayed or unseen. The Covid pandemic did not help soothe these feelings. Congregations scattered. Some didn’t feel safe returning, while others, especially young families, disengaged and do not appear to be coming back. Churches saw mission trips and evangelistic programs derailed. For a church leader, this accentuates the feelings of failure.
How do we combat this? As cliché as it sounds, pastors must cling more closely than ever to the Word of God. We all know we should do this, but often we fail in this regard. One of the ways God has ministered to me over the last several months has been through my study of Philippians, first devotionally and then as preparation for my current sermon series. The truths contained there have been a balm for my wounded pastoral soul. The apostle Paul knew what it was like to face difficulty in his ministry. As quill hit parchment, he languished in prison, uncertain about his future. Yet the tone of this letter is both positive and joyful. In the first chapter, I discovered several truths that comforted my soul. These principles will hopefully minister to your soul as well.
Lesson # 1–God is not finished with you
This lesson applies both to your ministry and your sanctification. Countless times during my 20 years in ministry I have felt like a ministry or service was a failure, only to find that God was working below the surface beyond what the naked eye could see. Furthermore, often the Father uses difficulties and hardships to refine his ministers. This reminder came from Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6. Paul writes, “I am sure of this: that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Pastor, God’s not finished with you or your church.
Lesson #2–God wants you to love and pray for your flock more.
Your church members are His people, and you are charged to shepherd them. As the initial church reopenings started, some members returned to churches while others did not. Paul could not see the church there at Philippi because he was imprisoned, yet the depth of his love was on display for them as he wrote in Philippians 1:8, “For God is my witness how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Verse 9 also expresses that their absence has kindled a fire of prayer from his heart for his people. Pastor, love and pray for your flock.
Lesson # 3–Rejoice as the gospel advances in other places.
Christianity is, properly understood, a team game. Yet this is often not how it is viewed. Fleshly feelings of jealousy and envy are often the results of our hearing about successes in other churches in our city or our county. We rationalize their success rather than simply celebrating the work that God is doing there. Paul’s imprisonment had caused an influx of brothers proclaiming the Gospel. The motives ran the spectrum of pure to false, yet Paul knew that what was most important was the proclamation of Christ and the advancement of the Gospel. In 1:18, he writes, “What does it matter, only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed and in this, I rejoice.” It doesn’t matter if the success occurs at your place or the place a mile down the road. Pastor, rejoice in gospel successes around you.
Lesson # 4–Your continued presence is intended to produce fruitful work.
We may not be able to see tangible successes in our ministries. Our church and our people may appear to be struggling immensely. Just because we may not see sanctification happening doesn’t mean it is not taking place. Paul had no way of knowing whether his imprisonment would lead to his freedom or martyrdom. Yet he knows that if he continued to live, that meant fruitful ministry ahead. In that encouraging paragraph about living and dying, Paul makes the awe-inspiring statement found in 1:22, “Now to live on in the flesh means fruitful work for me.” Pastor, be faithful where you are, knowing that as long as God keeps you serving, He will use your faithfulness and turn it into fruitfulness.