It’s not the critic. Though their words sometimes bite hard and hurt deep. It’s not the spiritually immature. Though their actions always grieve my heart and sometimes cause me to weep. It’s not even the antagonist. Though their passive-aggressive natures seek to undermine my leadership and influence. The most frustrating aspect of ministry…is me. That’s right. Me. And I don’t even say that as some sort of cutesy, pseudo-humble statement. I mean it. The most frustrating aspect of pastoral ministry is yours truly.
You see, nearly a year ago, I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry by Prairie Flower Baptist Church. On the day of my ordination, Paul Mann (one of the former pastors of PFBC) delivered my “Charge to the Ministry” sermon. His text was 1 Peter 5:1-4. I still remember his outline and charge to me: As an ordained minister, be Prairie Flower’s preacher, protector, and pattern. Sweet and simple…even alliterated for easy remembrance, but wow. What a charge! What a task. And honestly, I have found it extremely difficult to live up to the high and holy calling of pastoral ministry. I’m prone to laziness, apathy, and hypocrisy. Thus, I’ll say it again, the most frustrating aspect of ministry is me. In fact, ordination hasn’t made it any easier to live up to my calling but, in many respects, has simply magnified my inadequacies!
Couple that ordination message with the pastoral qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and I find myself nearly engulfed in a world of self-pity and despair. How can anyone live up to such a high and holy calling? Who is worthy? Who is sufficient for such a task?
Perhaps I’m not alone in these thoughts of inadequacy. Perhaps you struggle with the task and calling God has given you. I mean how can any married man look at what God requires of them in Eph. 5 and say, “Nailed it! I’m doing just fine.”? Maybe you’re a mother finding yourself overwhelmed and short on patience. Maybe you’ve come to loathe the anger and irritability of your heart that seems to percolate at all hours of the day. What do you do? How can you fulfill motherhood in light of the beauty and patience of the Gospel? Perhaps you are older and of retirement age and you find yourself so quick to speak, slow to listen, and quick to wrath (the opposite of James 1:19). Maybe you’re always complaining and dissatisfied, yet you’re supposed to be an example of godliness, maturity, and wisdom (cf. Titus 2:1-8)?! Perhaps I’m not alone in this struggle between the ideal of my calling and the reality of my being. Thus, here is what I do in my weakness and sin, and I trust you will do the same:
- Repent – The Gospel (which means “good news”) never excuses our faults and failures, but boldly labels them for what they are, namely, sin (i.e. falling short of God’s perfect standards). To fall short in our calling and tasks is sin and it demands repentance. 1 John 1:9-10 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t salve your conscience with niceties like: “You’re doing the best you can…Everything is going to be all right…At least I’m doing better than so and so…” Just acknowledge that you fall short in your calling, repent of the idols of your heart, and move forward knowing God’s grace and righteousness covers you completely.
- Rest – The Gospel not only calls sinners to repent, but it also invites forgiven sinners to rest. Praise be to God! We can rest in God’s character, His power, and His promises. Jesus Himself invites you in your weariness and inadequacy to: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). The Gospel reminds us time and time again that our worthiness before God comes not from our grunting and striving after some elusive perfection in this lifetime, but comes from our sheer reliance upon Him and what He’s already done on our behalf.
- Reassure – You must reassure your heart time and time again that your sufficiency in your calling comes only from God. Even the great Apostle Paul had to remind himself of this very thing: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…” (2 Cor. 3:4-5). Bottom line: I am totally insufficient, in and of myself, to do the work God has given me to do as a local church pastor. BUT my sufficiency, like the Apostle Paul’s, comes not from my education, charisma, or eloquence, but from God alone. The same is true for you.
Yes, the most frustrating aspect of ministry is me. My heart is prone to wander and my body is sinfully weak. That’s why I must constantly repent of such sin, rest in the person and power of Christ, and reassure my heart of my ultimate sufficiency. I trust you will do the same in your struggle between the ideal of your calling and the reality of your being.