By Ben Mandrell
How optimistic are you about this season of ministry?
Having shepherded churches for nearly two decades, I can tell you that many pastors tend to be glass-half-full kind of people, moving those sheep forward with a let’s-do-this attitude.
According to a recent Lifeway Research survey, however, our good shepherds are having their share of bad days.
Pointing to the silver linings is a tall order when so many life-giving activities have been cancelled or postponed.
This time of year usually brings a surge of energy and the kickoff of fresh ideas. Not so in 2020.
Acts 2 Cancelled?
What if Acts 2:42-47, that beautiful cameo of the early community, ended like this:
And just as the believers were feeding on the apostles’ teaching, entering joyfully into one another’s homes, and gathering as a group in the temple courts, a widespread sickness swept throughout the land, requiring even the apostles to remain in their homes.
If Acts concluded that way, what commentary would Luke have thrown in there? Would he try to focus on all the good things that resulted? I don’t think so.
Luke probably would have stated the obvious—that this health crisis caused a season of sadness and isolation for the baby churches, and the apostles had to work hard to maintain the momentum sparked at Pentecost.
Fuel for the Fatigued
As I have spoken recently to pastors across the country, I sense they’re white-knuckling and pushing forward, even though internally they’re running on fumes. Ministry feels “out of season.”
Does this describe you? Here are a few truths that can renew your perspective and give you hope as you keep your hand to the plow.
1. Your ministry belongs to God.
No whiteboard session will solve the ministry issues that stem from the pandemic. World leaders are scrambling to come up with strategy, and so are you.
Take comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who feels like you’re falling behind. God still walks beside you. He won’t forsake you. He loves your church more than you ever will.
Think about the big names in the Bible. Nearly all of them struggled with self-doubt and shocking setbacks.
Moses deeply felt the imposter syndrome the day he met the Red Sea. With his sky-is-falling flock crying out for a strategic plan, all he could do was stand there. Surely, he felt like a failure, thinking someone else could have done a better job
With a sprawling sea in front of him and a raging narcissist behind, he felt exposed and confused. He was in a ministry crisis.
What do we learn from the Red Sea roadblock? The answer Moses needed wouldn’t be found from within. God had to show him what to do and was getting ready to do so.
When I was a pastor, I was afraid to say, “I’m not sure what to do.” That seemed like the waving of a white flag. I often thought something along the lines of, Spiritual leaders should walk so closely with God that their knees never knock! Spurgeon would have solved this by now.
Moses, Elijah, David, Peter, and Paul felt in over their heads at times. They were forced to admit their fragility and their desperate need for God’s power and wisdom.
Paul wasn’t attempting poetry when he wrote, “In our weakness, He is strong.” He learned it from seeing God come through time after time.
Your ministry is beyond your control. You’re in God’s hands. Rest in that.
2. Your measure of success may be unbiblical.
Do you feel a spiritual high when your worship rooms are packed, when the opening announcement is ignored because the pre-service noise is cranking?
Many pastors have a kind of “glory days” recall, gazing often at photos of shoulder-to-shoulder Christmas Eve services. These memories make us feel successful, affirmed, and perhaps a little proud (the good kind, of course).
Like Peter, are we trying to extend the time of Transfiguration? Is the ministry supposed to be high-water mark after high-water mark? I don’t think so.
God calls us to be faithful, not successful. To say it another way: To be faithful is to be successful.
The New Testament letters are packed with verses that call us to be steadfast, unmoved, and unshaken when our metrics are down and momentum is lost.
When we let go of the metric system we’ve made for ourselves, we can live under the spell of grace.
So, what does it mean to be faithful? It means staying focused on the little things in local church life.
Make phone calls to your congregation. Study for that sermon. Prepare a personal message for the small wedding ceremony you’ve been asked to officiate.
Set up the finance committee meeting and show up with some notes. Figure out what those Zoom buttons do. Write a personal note of thanks to the tech team for working overtime on the livestream.
These little things matter greatly to God. And to His people.
3. Your church at home is still full.
One of the nagging pains of pastoral ministry is the constant pressure to be a world-class overseer.
We’ve studied our Bibles enough to know the word overseer is synonymous with elder and pastor. Inwardly, we want to do more than make Jesus proud; we also want to impress John Maxwell.
Most pastors work insanely hard. The lead/senior pastor feels pressure to outpace all other staff members when tabulating total office hours—first one to arrive, last one to leave.
They fall into the trap of believing that the student minister should marvel at the pastor’s high-octane abilities.
Is this sustainable year over year? I think not. Now is a good time for pastors to be more present at home and to turn their eyes upon their family.
Stock up on some good memories at home and lock eyes more often with your loved ones.
Be fully present there like you haven’t been in the past. Study your family by asking good questions. Plan some spontaneity.
The Red Sea would have parted no matter what Moses did. God was in control of Moses’ ministry and He’s in control of yours.
Use this season to fill up your house with joy, even as you wait for the Lord to open up your church.
BEN MANDRELL (@BenMandrell) is the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.