It’s supposed to be tough.
Why do you think God has to call people into this work? If it were easy, they’d be lining up to volunteer.
The Christian life is tough to start with. “In this world you will have tribulations,” our Lord said. Then, He added, “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Then, the Lord calls certain ones of the redeemed to stand apart from the flock and to become “point men.” His undershepherds. Overseers of the flock. Examples to the rest. And frequently, His spokesmen.
Targets. In the crosshairs of the enemy.
He does not sugarcoat the call. When Jesus called Saul of Tarsus, He said to one, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Jesus told His disciples, “I send you forth like sheep in the midst of wolves…. Men will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake…. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10).
You see how they treated Jesus; you should expect nothing different.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Accept this call and the world draws a target on your back. You must not say, “Why me, Lord?”
Accept this call and understand you have chosen to swim upstream in a downstream world. You must not say, “It’s hard, Lord.” It certainly is.
Accept this call and throw out all plans for the soft life with the cushioned retirement. You cannot accuse the Lord of misrepresenting things in order to sucker you in.
Accept this call and know that your troubles will come as much from within the congregation as from without. Paul told the Ephesian pastors, “After my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among yourselves, men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore, watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
Want to do something fun? Read the account of Moses as he led Israel from Egypt up to the back door of Canaan. Read about the harassment he took and the bellyaching he endured. Then notice one thing more: Do not miss all the griping and complaining that Moses himself did.
It would be easy to say Moses’ chief difficulties came from a group known as “the rabble,” certain non-Jews who joined the exodus out of Egypt as though it were a jail-break and they were willing to do anything and go anywhere to get out. (In both Exodus 12:38 and Numbers 11:4, they are called “a mixed multitude,” unbelievers who went up with Israel out of Egypt.) Unbelievers in the midst of a people of faith will always cause problems, and Moses had his share. As will you.
This incidentally, is why the Lord’s people must be careful to choose only people of faith when selecting teachers and leaders. (See Luke 18:8) It’s why Jesus said, before delivering some of His strongest lessons, “I say to you who hear.” Only people of faith will “hear,” will “get it.” Paul said, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit because they are foolishness to him” (I Corinthians 2:14).
You think you have it tough?
Moses was living off the land with a flock of a million or so. I suspect you have a house with a stove and refrigerator and a bed with a mattress. Moses had none of those things. They probably give you a check every couple of weeks, and might even deposit something in your retirement account. You are blessed indeed.
That is not to say Moses did not get in his share of complaining. My favorite is Numbers 11:15 where he prayed, “Lord, if I have found favor in Thy sight, please kill me now.”
Many a pastor understands the feeling.
I suspect the source of much of our unhappiness in the ministry results from comparing ourselves with two groups.
–By comparing our status in life (income, houses, cars, luxuries) with our neighbors, we become envious. We must help our children not to fall into this trap.
–By comparing our situation with certain others in the ministry, we can become restless and even a little resentful. “Why isn’t the Lord blessing my ministry the way He blesses theirs?” Some pastors pull down over a hundred grand a year; why am I struggling to get by with a third of that?
The best answer to the first is to wake up and repent. Envying the world is a disease calculated to poison your heart and destroy your effectiveness forever. Psalm 73 was given as the Lord’s permanent reply to those who would envy the world: “You don’t want to be in their shoes. Not now and not ever.”
The best answer to the second (envying a colleague in ministry) is what our Lord said to Simon Peter when he grew fidgety and uncomfortable from hearing the difficult news of what lay ahead for him. He pointed to the Apostle John. “What about him, Lord?” Jesus answered, “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22).
I know a woman married to a preacher who does not understand why he makes the sacrifices he does. When he comes in from a long stress-filled day of serving the Lord, she says, “If it makes you so tired, why do you do it?”
In her mind, she’s being sympathetic. But to him, she simply does not understand the call of God. He tells her, “Honey, what did your father do for a living?” He knows the answer. “He was a bus driver.” “And did he ever come in exhausted at the end of a long day?” “Sure. All the time.” “But did he quit because the work was hard and the hours were long?” “Of course not. He had a family to feed.” “So, the fact that he was tired at the end of the day was beside the point, right? He was doing his job.” “I guess so.”
The typical pastor will not be able to live up to the standards of many of his own members, but he must not envy them, even the most faithful and godly.
If the Lord chooses to bless some works and give the ministers higher salaries and better houses, rejoice with them. But to envy them is to second-guess the Holy Spirit who put you where He wants you.
The typical pastor will be terminated at least once in his ministry by church leadership that cares little for his situation but is determined to run the church their way. He must not let that embitter him or hinder his ability to serve the next church. If he does, the enemy has won a victory.
The typical pastor will be the subject of unrealistic expectations from members and the object of unChristlike demands from some of his people. He must stand strong and teach them and pray for them, and then love them when they refuse to do the right thing. He must pray for understanding and patience.
The typical pastor may expect to pay a heavy price for his strong stand for the Lord Jesus from time to time. He must not think he is being singled out or treated unfairly. Worst of all, he must not conclude the Lord misrepresented things to him in his original call.
“You see how they treated me,” Jesus said. “You should expect the same.” (Matthew 10 and other places)
Your day is coming, pastor. And what a glorious day that will be.
Keep your eyes on the prize, my friend.