Faithful Endurance: A Book Review of a Book Pastors Need in 2021

My article originally appeared at the Small Town Summits website as part of Small Town Summits Articles, for which I serve as Content Manager. This article was also featured on The Gospel Coalition’s “Around the Web” listing.

This past year has found me asking God now more than ever, “Help me to faithfully endure as a pastor. I need your strength. I need your wisdom. I need your grace.” It’s not that I have wanted to quit. And it’s not that we do not see God’s blessing on our church during one of the most difficult years in recent memory. In fact, in 2020 we saw God’s hand on our church in blessing and sustaining and expanding our ministry more than we have in past years. So why did I desperately pray for God’s help so often this year? Simply for the same reason that I hear from my other pastor friends: we are tired. 

We are tired of walking the tightrope between government regulations and freedom of worship. We are tired of the tension of valid health concerns and wanting to do ministry boldly at a time that people need it most. We are tired of trying to shepherd some through masks and others through Zoom. We are tired of facing the stresses and constant changes and challenges of doing our job during a worldwide pandemic—as all in our church are in their work also. 

But there is gospel hope in pandemic fatigue. The same Lord who shepherds our people is the same Lord who stands with us every day as pastors (2 Timothy 4:17). We need powerful reminders of this as we look ahead to 2021 and continue to pray for God’s strength, wisdom, and grace. 

A few months ago, I had the privilege of sitting down for a long chat with a good cup of coffee with my pastoral mentor. There was something refreshing, encouraging, challenging, and strengthening in talking and praying with somebody who has “been there” and who is still in the fight, serving faithfully during a hard season. This is why I picked up Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People For a Lifetime, edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr. I needed more wisdom and strength and grace from God through his faithful servants. I needed what amounts to a long chat with a good cup of coffee with many different pastors on many different topics who have centuries of combined pastoral ministry experience. I would recommend that you do the same in 2021.

The book’s strength is combining well-known pastors and ministry leaders like Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Dave Harvey and Bryan Chapell with lesser-known but equally faithful pastors and ministry leaders like Mark McCullough, Scott Patty, and Brandon Shields. They are able to speak from a variety of backgrounds on multiple pressing pastoral concerns such as, “Ministry has left me spiritually listless” (Chapter 1), “My preaching always sounds the same” (Chapter 3), “My critics are a burden for my wife” (Chapter 6), “They’ve left, and I’m crushed!” (Chapter 7), “My church has outgrown my gifts” (Chapter 10), and “How am I going to make it financially?” (Chapter 11). This is all capped off with an interview with John MacArthur on the anniversary of his fiftieth year of serving at Grace Community Church.

I had not read a specific pastoral ministry book this year, and as I read I discovered that it was just what I needed to help me faithfully endure. I needed the reminders of godly, gospel-centered pastors to help me look not to them but to the Jesus whom we serve and trust in. I needed the sharpening in some areas, such as my preaching and my practice of a day of rest. After a difficult year, I needed the reminders of how to serve with and lead my wife more faithfully (Chapter 6), and how to keep difficulties such as people leaving the church in proper perspective (Chapter 7). 

I was challenged to look at the difficulties of ministry with eternity in view: “Pastor, that pain you feel, that stinging pain in your stomach that wells up each time you remember the friend who left—convert that aching moment into a reminder that there is a day coming when you will be reconciled. There’s a day coming when closure will happen.” (Dave Harvey, p. 82) I was encouraged with practical steps to grow in my leadership, all the while being pointed to what is most important: “The wise pastor also remembers that the main goal is to lead people to Jesus. We often overemphasize organizational leadership skills and underemphasize the pastoral skills of preaching, having conversations, and praying with people. Keeping the main emphasis on leading people to Jesus doesn’t mean we accept poorly led organizations as the norm, but it does remind us that we don’t have to be able to run a massive corporation to be an effective pastor. We do, however, need to know Jesus and be able to lead others to him.” (Scott Patty, p. 108)

For small-town pastors such as myself, there are gold nuggets throughout the book that will help us to have faithful endurance in 2021 and beyond. But the most significant chapter for you, like me, will probably be Mark McCullough’s chapter (8), “Does Staying in a Small Rural Church Make Me a Failure?” I learned from Keller and Carson, but I received an arm around my shoulder as a fellow rural pastor when I read McCullough’s words of warmth and joy from a man who has served the same rural congregation for almost three decades. McCullough spurs us on to faithful endurance by focusing on three joys that would serve us well to focus on during 2021: the joy of knowing and being known by God, the joy of making God known, and the joy of knowing others.

I pray that you will have faithful endurance in ministry in 2021. We can do this not from looking to our own wisdom or strength, but from looking to the Jesus who has promised us that he is with us always (Matthew 28:20). Faithful Endurance will help you do exactly that.

Resolutions of a Small-Town Pastor

This article first appeared on Small Town Summits Articles. I serve on the Leadership Team for Small Town Summits.

Note from Tim: I would like to thank the other members of the Small Town Summits Leadership Team for their help thinking through resolutions.


There can be a healthy way to consider New Year’s resolutions as it is a natural time for us to look ahead to the coming year. Jonathan Edwards even famously showed us that resolving to live life for the glory of God can be a helpful way to take stock of our life and goals. As a small-town pastor, here are specific resolutions that I have as I think about ministry in 2020.

Resolved: to “watch my life and doctrine carefully.” Paul instructed Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:16) This means that I am resolving to exercise more in the coming year as I need the discipline, better health, and energy for ministry that regular exercise will cultivate (1 Timothy 4:8). But it also means that I will take the same care to guard my mind and doctrine by reading one theological book that will challenge me. For me, this means Owen’s The Holy Spirit that has been sitting on my shelf for a few years.

Resolved: to preach with all the passion & preparation the Word deserves regardless of how many are in the pews any given Sunday. The sheep need to be fed well. As pastors we are to preach the word and be ready “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) For a small-town pastor like me, that may mean putting just as much preparation and passion into a Sunday sermon when I know that it will be a smaller Sunday. One of the realities of small-town ministry is that several families all gone the same weekend can put a damper on the excitement of Sunday morning. But my call to preach the Word is not dependent on how many are in the pews, but on the unchanging Savior I am called to proclaim.

Resolved: to read one biography of someone who had a fruitful small-place ministry, to readjust my vision of success. Our heroes of today are so often the large-place pastors and big conference speakers. Our heroes of the past are so often the Spurgeons who preached the gospel to thousands week in and week out. But sometimes we need to be reminded of lives perhaps not as well known but just as well spent, ministering in smaller and lesser-known places (our Small Town Summits Resource Page provides some ideas).

Resolved: to believe that Jesus is enough, and that he is worthy of all my labors, regardless of the fruit I’m seeing or not seeing through my ministry. As I look ahead to 2020, I long for God to work in big ways in our church and community as I see the gospel advance for God’s glory. There are so many within miles of our church building who hardly know the name of Jesus beyond perhaps a curse word. While I want to pray for revival and ministry fruitfulness more, I am also seeking by God’s grace to need it less. I resolve to be content with the pace of ministry that God grants by his grace.

Resolved: to be a husband who better reflects the love of Christ to my wife, and to be a dad who disciples his children and has fun with them. Ministry is serious business. In the same day we could go from visiting a member moments from eternity to visiting a newborn baby in the hospital. In the same week we could go from counseling a marriage that is on the verge of divorce to the joy of officiating a wedding. And there is always more to do. But I am resolving to remember in 2020 that I will never regret spending time with my wife and focusing on growing in better reflecting the gospel through my relationship with her. Sometimes date night may be more fruitful in my ministry than a couple more hours put into the sermon or visitation. I resolve to continue to join my wife in discipling our kids and to remember to have fun with them. They may struggle with believing in a Jesus who became like one of us if I never “stoop” to speak their language of fun and play.

Resolved: to joyfully embrace the place that God has sovereignly assigned to me. Missionary Jim Elliot once wisely remarked, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” God sovereignly placed you in the small town that you are ministering in today. There are people there that he means to reach with the gospel through your unique gifting. We have the privilege of shepherding some of God’s people in the specific context he has assigned to us. I resolve to remember what Peter instructed: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you…” (1 Peter 5:2) There is joy in serving in the place that God has placed me in.

As I look ahead to ministry in my small town in 2020, I know that these resolves will never happen by my own strength or resolve. But I know that the Spirit loves to fulfill what God commands. So, fellow small-town pastor, know that this is being prayed for you today and into the new year: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you… (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12a)