How to be miserable in the ministry

I don’t know anyone who wants to be miserable in anything, much less in serving the Lord, but some people give the appearance of working hard to achieve it.

Here are three self-destructive things (you’ll think of a hundred) we ministry-persons do which undermine our effectiveness in the work and fuel the angst of frustration which many people live with on a daily basis….

1) Expect to be paid what you think you’re worth.

Figure out what you are being paid, then total up the number of hours you put in, and divide the second into the first.  The result is your wages per hour.  Disgusting, ain’t it? (smiley-face here)

There is perhaps no more certain path to misery in the ministry than to estimate your own personal value based on such factors as years of training, the degrees you hold, and the tenure you have logged in the Lord’s work, and expect to be paid appropriately.  If this misery is not enough for you, then figure in the number of children you have, the hours your spouse invests in the ministry too (all of it unpaid), and the errands your children run for church members.  You will not, of course, ask to be recompensed for any of that, but dwelling on it makes you feel worse, and after all, that was the point in the first place.

In retirement, the math for certain misery gets easier.  You were invited for a specific event–a retreat for which you were the speaker, a banquet you did, a revival you preached for a church–and when it was over they handed you a check.  You have no trouble at all counting the miles you traveled, the hours you spent in your car, and the costs associated with your trip: meals, tips, dry cleaning bill, and other incidentals.  Then, you figure out the actual number of hours/days at that church, and compare to the numbers on the check you were paid.

Depressing, ain’t it?  (Answer: sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.  I’m amazed that after a check that barely covers your mileage, the next event will result in a check three times what you were expecting.  Anyway, back to the subject….)

Everyone starting out in ministry should be clear up front that the Lord Himself is their Source.  He is their portion, and they should look to Him.

The Lord is my Employer; I shall not want.

We look to Him to meet our needs, not to the church or the finance committee or the deacons. We do not look to some well-heeled church member to slip us a wad of bills under the table.

In retirement, our focus is not on the size of the church that invites us, not on the generosity of the host pastor, and not on the numbers on the check. And, for the Southern Baptists among us, not on the weekly email from Guidestone saying what your retirement account did this week.

If the Lord is our Shepherd, we look to Him for our needs and we are assured that we shall not want. Anything else, and all bets are off.

2) Expect everyone to appreciate you and God’s people to meet all your needs.

Some church members will love you to death, while others seem to look for alternative ways of ridding the earth of your presence.

Some churches love and encourage their pastors, no matter how good a job they think they’re doing; it’s simply their nature to be kind and supportive and generous.  Other churches forget the doctrine of grace as it applies to pastors and demand that nothing be given freely; the ministers are simply employees and must earn and deserve everything they get (and repay it when they don’t!).

Put your expectations on the congregation–any congregation–and you are sure to be disappointed.

Put those expectations on the world at large, and your disappointment will be swift and deep.

Young people entering the ministry should live in Matthew 10:16-42 until its lessons soak in and can never be washed out.  Some of those lessons include….

–God’s servants should expect the world to treat you harshly. (10:16-18)

The Lord’s disciples do not get on Facebook and whimper as though the world promised you something it has now decided not to give you.  Be a grownup!

When the world does not reject you but seems to appreciate you and wants to honor you, tread carefully, Christian worker. This world has a spotty record of keeping its word and should not be trusted.

–The Lord’s disciples should expect to be hated because of Jesus, and do not be blind-sided by harassment. (10:22)

The world likes Jesus only from a distance, never up close.  When one gets too near Jesus, His demands for discipleship and righteousness become visible and the world cannot abide this.  They will accuse you His servant of being unlike Him, and judgmental. You must expect this and not be swayed. If you are seeking the world’s approval, you will wilt in the sun of its gaze.

–Expect to be treated the way Jesus was. You’re no better than He (10:25).

This should end all belly-aching about what the deacons or some church bully or the finance committee are doing (or not doing).  You must be a grownup in these things.

–You must prepare to stand strong and firm no matter what others do inside the church or out.  You are to be mature and bold, to speak up and be clear in your confession of Christ at all times (10:26-33).

Otherwise, the Lord is not going to be able to do much through your service.

3) Forget that it’s all about faith, and expect to see visible results all the time.

More than likely, you will serve a small church, at least at first, and possibly for your entire ministry.  As a friend of mine has pointed out, the pastor of such a church will stare at the same people every Sunday as he preaches. The numbers rarely vary, and the responses to the altar calls are few.  It’s so easy to get discouraged.

If he has to have bigger numbers to keep his faith strong and his courage up, he won’t last.

It’s a short step after such discouragement to arrive at anger and resentment toward God. Why doesn’t He send you to a church where you can bear real fruit? Wasn’t this His purpose in calling you in the first place?  This church does not appreciate you sufficiently.  Your gifts are not being properly utilized here.  Where is God?

So, you become miserable. And since this makes for a terrible attitude for ministry, it all goes downhill from there.

Many a veteran pastor of those small churches could tell you a few needful things. They would speak of how God raised up a child or two who grew up to do big things in the kingdom. They would tell you how the perspective of decades changed forever how they see Kingdom work, and how God refined them by those years of service in out-of-the-way places where the labor was hard and the fruit small.

Only the people of faith will stay with the program. The immature–those who dig up the seed they planted yesterday to see if it sprouted–will not last.

What to do?  How to reverse the ministry miseries? A couple of suggestions….

1) Clear off a full morning on your schedule and lock yourself in a room with your Bible.  Begin reading, then praying, and then reading some more.  Humble yourself and search your heart. Do a thorough job of repenting, friend, because you are sinning big time by your attitude.

Ministry misery is sinful? You bet. It shows you are focusing on yourself rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ.

2) Keep a notebook handy.  After all, now that the Lord has your undivided attention, He just might want to say a few things to you.

3) Read Luke 10:20 and the verses around it.  Read it repeatedly. Talk to the Father about it, and stay with it until you learn what it means, and can rejoice in any and every circumstance.  On a similar note, I suggest you memorize Habakkuk 3:17-19.  There is nothing like it in the rest of Scripture.  It’s golden.

Wait a minute–God wants you rejoicing even when the cupboard is bare and there’s nothing on the table and you don’t know what to do?  Yep. He does, but He waits for you to sit before Him and seek Him.

4) Now, rejoice in the Lord in every phase of your ministry.

In giving announcements to the church, rejoice in the Lord.  In promoting an offering, rejoice in the Lord. In reading the sick list before prayer time, rejoice in the Lord. In your praying and singing, in your preaching and your leadership in every area, rejoice in the Lord.  In visiting the sick, rejoice in the Lord. In holding a funeral, rejoice in the Lord.

Ministry miseries (like all other kinds!) cannot stay around when people are praising the Lord and rejoicing in Him.

5) Finally, go to Luke 17:7-10 and get thoroughly acquainted with this unique teaching from our Lord. The bottom line of this little parable is, ”When you have done EVERYTHING He commands of you–like that’s going to happen!–you should say to yourself, ‘I am only an unworthy servant doing my duty.’”

So much for sitting around waiting to be recognized and appreciated!

Please note about that parable in Luke 17 that this is what you say to yourself.  You do not say it to anyone else! (please don’t!) Nor does God say this to you.  He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  But this is what we say to ourselves: I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.  

When you say those words to yourself, you drive a stake through the ego and nail it to the wall.  There!  But, a word of caution, my friend: “The ego will be back tomorrow, clamoring for attention, demanding appreciation.” So, crucify self again tomorrow, and the day after.  “I die daily,” said the apostle (I Corinthians 15:31). That’s the idea.

No misery of self-absorption and disappointment will be allowed in the family of God or the work of the Kingdom. People in the Lord’s work who are in the grip of those emotions are doing it wrong.

Misery is the atmosphere of hell.  Its toxic fumes are injurious to anyone who would attempt to serve the risen Christ.

Rejoice in the Lord, friend. Joy, as you surely know, is the atmosphere of Heaven.

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