And yet, thousands of men leave the ministry every year having shriveled into joyless shells of their former selves. Burnout is high. So is frustration for many men. Fatigue is chronic, almost a syndrome in pastoral ministry. Why? If Heb. 13:17 suggests that the pastoral work should be a joy, why are their seasons and entire tenures that are so joyless?
Well, the answers are legion I suppose. For every pastor there is a story and a set of reasons. Some involve failures in the man, others failures in the people.
But just as there are challenges, there are also suprising sources of joy in pastoral ministry. When the family packed up and began the trek to Grand Cayman, one mentor said, "You'll be surprised at the friendships and the joys the Lord gives you that you didn't anticipate." One year in, he's absolutely correct.
I've began meditating on Paul's letter to the Philippians, a letter filled with references to joy. Last night I started thinking of how some of the things that brought the apostle joy in his ministry are probably unlikely sources of joy for men in ministry today.
For example, Paul writes, "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on until the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:4-6).
Paul's prayer life is filled with joy because of the partnership he had with this church in the gospel. It's a partnership they've enjoyed from the first day of their mutual acquaintance.
But do we often think of pastoral ministry as a partnership with the congregation? Models stressing leadership and shepherding are more plentiful. But the notion of "partnership in the gospel" provided Paul joy and may be a fruitful way for pastors to also think of their relationship with their people.
When we think of pastoral ministry as a partnership in the gospel some unexpected reasons to be joyful in the labor begin to emerge.
The saints at FBC have been tremendous partners in the gospel with me and a source of great joy. When I think about their contribution, the greater contribution by any measure, like Paul, I'm thankful to God and joful in prayer for them.
First, their partnership in the gospel is evidenced by their prayers for me, the family, and the ministry. People frequently tell me that they're praying for me. And when I hear that, knowing that God is faithful to answer the prayers of His people, I'm encouraged. I'm strengthened and helped. On Sunday evenings, usually a couple weeks before going off somewhere to speak, I inform my partners in the gospel of upcoming outside engagements. We pray in those services for those opportunities. But I also know that when I'm away preaching in other places folks back home continue praying, interceding, asking the Lord for great fruit in the lives of those I'm serving and in my life. It's a tremendous and humbling partnership in this way.
Second, their partnership is seen in their giving. That's a no-brainer. But it needs to be said because the gift/grace of giving is often under-emphasized or emphasized in all the wrong ways. But when the people of FBC or any local church give, they are expressing their partnership in the gospel. They aren't giving fundamentally to me or the church staff or the building (though those things are included), but to the furtherance of the gospel in the lives of people near and far away from FBC. It's a vote of confidence/support, a tangible expression of joining in Christ-exalting labor.
Third, there are the multitude of ministries and acts of service that reflect this partnership. From the rather anonymous women who prepare the communion elements, to those doing the hard and rewarding work of children's ministry, to folks recording sermons and keeping the website updated, to men and women leading Bible study at their workplace, to men and women who work to apply the sermon to their daily lives... the partnership and influence of the gospel ministry is really extended, lived, and made effective by the congregation. I get to preach a sermon, lead a mid-week Bible study, and so forth. But the joy is to see the saints walk in the truth and carry Christ to places that I never could reach. It's a partnership from firist to last.
Fourth, the partnership is lived out in the local congregation itself. It's a great joy to see gospel-centered hospitality shared between the members. It's a joy to see humble concern and correction and instruction shared as people live the faith together. That partnership in sanctification, stirring one another to love and good deeds, is a source of rejoicing and thanksgiving. What a tremendous burden it is to labor in a place where the people of God show little concern for one another and for living out the faith together.
Certainly there are other ways this partnership is expressed and leads to joy in the ministry. Maybe some can be listed in the comments section. But it is a gret thing to realize we are not alone in the ministry; the weight of ministry doesn't fall on the pastor's shoulders alone. And perhaps more reasons for rejoicing ease into view when we add to the shepherding lense the bi-focal of partnership. Not only do I see the sheep who are wandering, bruised, and attacked by wolves... but I also see the sheep who remain in the fold, who make the flock possible by being there, who help keep the other sheep in line and bleat at the sight of wolves. I can see those who are in their own giftings and callings laboring as (if not more) aggressively and faithfully as I am. And I may take heart that the Lord has not placed me on a deserted island, but one filled with His people who desire to see the gospel advanced from these shores. It's a great joy to be in partnership with our people.