(Editor’s Note: In recognition of October being Pastor Appreciation Month, my husband, John Davis, and I wrote this blog together as an encouragement to pastors. John has been pastoring since 2015 and currently leads and loves a church in Northeast Mississippi.)
The ebb and flow of a pastor’s life and the life of his church can often be a roller-coaster ride of emotions. I’m going to show my age by saying this, but it makes me think of the old 4Him lyrics:
This roller-coaster ride of life
Lifts you up and lets you down.
It’s true. The pastorate is full of both highs and lows, ups and downs. The visible fruits of your labor lift you up while the hard days, long nights, and difficult seasons let you down.
When one of your recent sermons spurs genuine conversations between church members and non-church members at the local eatery, you rejoice in seeing that the Word of God is not returning void. Then your heart breaks when those you care deeply about continue making sinful choices. You still love them, of course, but it hurts.
There are those weeks when you are approached by more critics than encouragers. It all weighs heavily on your shoulders, and some days it seems like it’s just too much to endure. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to
[R]un with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).
So fellow pastors, I ask: How do we, as pastors, look to Jesus and run our race with joy, carefully balancing the highs and lows?
Recognize that the season of lows is temporary. No matter what we go through on this earth, it is temporary in comparison to eternity. Paul understood this when he said in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” If Paul can say that, how much more should we be able to live and minister with the same perspective?
Realize we are not alone in our difficult seasons. I know how it feels. It is easy to find yourself in a vacuum. But don’t get wrapped up in believing that no one understands what you are going through. Because they do. Everyone listening to you on a Sunday morning has difficulties and struggles. Most people – like you and me – are looking for someone simply to listen to their struggles and respond with grace and truth. Reach out to a trustworthy fellow pastor or a mature believer in your life, and ask for a listening ear and a truthful response.
Reset our minds on the things of God. We must be careful not to allow our minds to be consumed by the difficulties surrounding us. Don’t ignore the issues, but don’t be controlled by them either. Instead, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Remember our calling. In John 21, Jesus calls Peter to tend and feed His sheep. In other words, Peter was to care for and nurture spiritually those Jesus would entrust to him. Remember, we are not perfect, nor are our flocks. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6). Be thankful Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. Peter took seriously the words Jesus spoke to him and instructed us to do the same: “[S]hepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you …” (1 Peter 5:2).
Recall the purpose of gospel ministry. We make visits; we preach funerals; we perform wedding ceremonies, and we attend meetings, among a host of other responsibilities. All of those things are vital to ministry. However, never forget the ultimate purpose of ministry. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” When your weekly schedule is more than you can handle, rest in the finished work of your Savior and be grateful for the opportunities given to you to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we be able to say like Paul did, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (v. 23).
So, pastors, as we hold on tightly on this roller-coaster ride of life and ministry, remember the rest of those 4Him lyrics:
[A]s you go through highs and lows
And all that's in between,
The Lord alone is in control of this big scream machine.