The pastor said to me, “Pray for me. It’s hard out here. But we’re hanging in there, trying not to return evil for evil.”
I teased, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, to put up with that stuff.” And after a moment’s reflection, added, “It’s why God has to call people into this ministry.”
If it were easy, they’d be lining up to get in on it.
Called by God. Yes, it’s how He fills the ranks of shepherds.
“Now, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you; and I will make you….” (Genesis 12:1ff.)
“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…. (And God said) ‘I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3)
“And God said (to Isaiah), ‘Go and tell this people…’” (Isaiah 6:8)
“Now the word of the Lord came to (Jeremiah) saying, ‘I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
“And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew…. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:18-19).
“And the Lord said (to Saul), ‘Arise, and go to the street called Straight….’ ‘(Saul) is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:1ff.)
Anyone see a trend here?
Ask your preacher to tell you about his call.
Here’s my story.
Looking back, I see the Lord was getting all the chess pieces in place for this “one strategic move” for some time. He had saved me at the age of 11, given me a deep interest in the things of the Lord before I recognized it as that, and surrounded me with Christian people. At the age of 19, He moved me to a different state and a new college, a wonderful new church, and then a few months later gave me a godly roommate who was older and settled and far wiser (and had a car). That roommate influenced me so heavily for Jesus and put me on to Margaret Henderson’s uniqueness, and then stood to my side when she and I wed. That church was filled with warm, friendly, sweet-spirited and godly people who nurtured this hillbilly kid and helped to ground me in the Word. So that, on that Tuesday night in April of 1961, when the Spirit of God spoke to me (while I was singing in the choir during our revival) to say, “I want you in the ministry,” the only one surprised seems to have been me.
That’s my call. When asked if the call of God was audible, I enjoy answering, “No. It was stronger than that.”
For good reason the Lord calls people into the ministry.
1) It’s hard work.
You are trying to get people to change. You are asking people to give a hefty part of their income to a cause they cannot prove, people they will never meet, work they cannot always understand. You are asking them to quit the habits of a lifetime and to give up customs that brought them comfort in order to grow into Christlikeness. You are pushing them to grow and change and love and give and serve and forgive, all activities the old nature resists.
2) The fruit is slow and often invisible for years.
So many things in this world are seen and known only to the Creator God. Think of the animals giving birth and growing their babies in the wild, the little birds learning to sing, the deer cavorting in the meadows where no human has ever been and no eyes but God have watched. He sees and cares.
Likewise, God sees progress being made in the lives of people sitting in our pews, sees the hearts opening and lives turning to Him. We who lead those slow-responding churches must trust that He knows what He is doing in sending us there and keeping us on the job when the fruit seems small and the progress minimal.
3) The opposition can come from any direction, even from the saints.
Paul told the Ephesian church leaders to expect wolves to arrive from the outside but also to be alert to church members rising up to sabotage the work of the Lord (Acts 20:29). In the case of our Lord, we remember, it was a disciple who betrayed Him to the Roman soldiers.
4) The pay can be erratic, too little, frustrating, and then again, sometimes overwhelmingly generous. You just never know.
We will hear callous critics scoffing that, “It’s a funny thing about preachers. They move to a larger church with a high salary and they say it’s because the Lord is leading. Funny thing how He never leads them to smaller churches with a smaller income.” The answer to that is: Oh, He does do that. He did it in my life and perhaps in yours too.
He has a right to send us where He wills at whatever compensation He pleases, for He is Lord.
5) Those you love most–your wife and children–may pay a big price for God’s call upon you.
This one hurts most of all. As the preacher, you can take the backbiting and gossiping. But when you see your wife and children targeted by the bullies within your congregation, that pushes you to your limit. When you see your children going without adequate clothing or school supplies or health/dental care because the money is not there, your heart breaks and you go to the Lord in tears, asking if He’s sure about this.
6) He is going to ask difficult things from you.
He may ask you to leave home for some foreign country when everything inside you cries to stay within a few miles of your parents. Your parents cry that you are taking their young grandchildren to a distant land, meaning they may see them only once a year instead of several times a week, and it’s hard.
He may ask you to go to a divided, discouraged church where the pay is slim and the prospects are poor. But the call of God is upon you and so you go. Your friends warn you that moving to that church is a bad career move. But you tell yourself, “I don’t have a career. I have a call. A call from God.”
The servant does not question the Master.
7) The Lord is going to require things of you He doesn’t of any other group: accountability for His people. (Hebrews 13:17)
No one would voluntarily choose a position where he will later have to stand before the Almighty God of the universe and account for every soul entrusted to his keeping. And yet, that seems to be the thrust of Scripture. Only those called of God are willing to do such a thing.
8) You will find that sleepless nights, heavy burdens, abundant tears, lonely days, and friendlessness are far more common than anyone prepared you for.
Once in a while, I will learn of preachers who grew discouraged because of non-support from the congregation and a lack of response to their ministries, and toss in the towel. When told of such, I have two reactions, contradictory to one another.
I think the preacher should remember that Jesus said, “You see how they treated me? Well, you’re no better than I am.” (see Matthew 10) Surely the pastor did not think it was going to be all sweetness and light, did he?
But on the other hand, I understand. Many a time, I have felt that I’d like to do something other than pastor a church, and would have had the Lord made it available to me. (The one time He did give me a choice, in late 1979, I came within a hair’s breadth of resigning the church and taking the denominational position, then in the matter of an hour came to my senses, and never looked back.)
It’s a tough job. Only the called will endure, and perhaps not even all of them.
Pray for your ministers.