The Dark Secret of Pastoral Ministry

Paul Tripp has an excellent piece at the Christian Post entitled: The Dark Secret of Pastoral Ministry: Why Pastors Get Tired. He does an excellent job of laying out the struggles that many pastors face when it comes to our needs and what is expected of us. He asks a lot of great questions that every pastor should have to think about and pray about:

Could it be that one of the dark secrets of pastoral ministry is that a whole lot of what we do is driven by worry and not by faith?

Could it be that at the functional level much of ministry is shaped by a long catalog of “what ifs”?

Could it be that this causes us to load the health of the church onto our shoulders?

Could it be that too much of our ministry is shaped by subtle pastoral self-sovereignty?

Could it be that in pastoral ministry the sin of unbelief is often recast as commitment, discipline, dedication, or a willingness to suffer?

Is it not possible in pastoral ministry for unbelief to be perceived as maturity?

His answer is simply that many of us worry about way too many things that are out of our control. I have to admit that I do. My typical worries falls outside of those things that I can control, like the church growing, the church remaining faithful to our calling, the church being healthy. I can do some things for those ends, but in the end, it’s all upon God’s Spirit moving in such a way to cause growth. But enough of what I’m saying, here is a bit more from Paul Trip:

What Jesus says next may be hard to accept, but it is vital to hear. He essentially says that the reason our lives are driven and shaped by fear and not faith is that we have forgotten the gospel. Christ lays down three gospel arguments for us to consider.

1. The gospel of creation. First, Jesus points to the surrounding creation (the lilies and the birds) and says that there is ample visible evidence every day that God will not abandon the work of his hands. If he cares for the flowers and the birds, will he not care for those he made in his own image? So the gospel of creation preaches rest to the pastor. Would God gift a man then abandon him? Who could be more committed to the welfare of the church then the One who established it? The welfare of the church is not the pastor’s job-it is the Lord’s promise. The pastor’s job is simply to use his God-given gifts in public and private gospel ministry.

2. The gospel of relationship. Jesus then reminds his listeners that they have a Father who knows their needs and is at work meeting them. This means, first, that it is God’s job (if I can use that language) to define our needs. No one knows better what we need than our Creator, Savior, Father. Second, it is God’s covenantal family commitment to meet each of those needs. Once your ministry is driven by your attempt to meet your needs, you are ministering for you and not for others. Others-centered ministry is always propelled by a quiet rest in the Father’s love and care. This also calls us to trust the Father’s wisdom and timing. If he is meeting our needs, then we must conclude that if we don’t have it right now it is because our Father knows that we don’t need (in the true sense of the word) it right now.

3. The diagnosis of “little faith.” So, what is the problem? Gospel-amnesia. When you forget who you are, you quit resting in the Father’s provision, you start relying on your own wisdom, and you try to do God’s job. All this results in functional ministry anxiety and a catalog of bad personal and ministry choices. Jesus’ diagnosis is quite stinging. He says that the problem is that no matter what we say we believe, there are moments when we essentially live like pagans. We live (even in ministry) like there is no God, let alone a God who has adopted us into his family and showers us moment by moment with his forgiving, empowering, and transforming grace. Because he is my Father, it is impossible for me to ever be alone in ministry, to ever be left to my own resources.

Seeking God’s kingdom in ministry means many things, but surely it means remembering his fatherly presence, relying on his fatherly care, resting in his fatherly wisdom, and trusting in his fatherly grace. Then we can say no when it is the appropriate response of faith, we don’t attempt to control what is already under the Father’s wise control, and we aren’t tempted to do more than we are able to do.

Pastor, preach this gospel to yourself today for your sake, for the sake of your family, for the sake of those to whom you minister, and for the sake of the Father’s glory.

These are good reminders for all of us.