The Lord Does Not Despise the Day of Small Things

This article originally appeared at Small Town Summits Articles. I serve as the Content Manager for STS Articles.

“Oh, that’s good that you’ll be in a small church for your first Lead Pastorate,” the well-meaning former church member commented. “It will be a great opportunity before God expands your ministry.” In the context of our conversation, the idea was that a small church would be a place of growth until God called me on to bigger and better things. They weren’t trying to be rude or demeaning, but the insinuation was that a small church in a small town was a good place for a pastor in his mid-thirties, so that God could use him in a bigger place when he was older and wiser and could handle more responsibility.

My friend did not seem to know that being a pastor of a small church means that you have to wear more hats and be more of a “Renaissance man” than you usually have to be in a larger church. I was going from an Associate Pastor role with five full-time or part-time support staff members who partly helped my ministry through administration, copying, scheduling or helping with e-mails, to being the only staff member. My first week in the new church office, my first week preparing and copying the bulletin on my own, my first week sending out the Children’s Church volunteer e-mail and checking the church post office box, my respect grew exponentially for all of the small-town pastors who have to broaden their skills and manage their schedules to handle a more diverse set of responsibilities. No matter how much you delegate, the rubber-meets-the-road reality of being a small-town pastor will sometimes mean that the joke I once heard is true: “Happy ‘Small-Church Pastor Day.’ Here’s a plunger.” 

Most days I don’t mind this reality, and today I am helped in some of those responsibilities by volunteers or part-time staff. But other days I need God’s help to see that not only does God not want me to despise the day of small things, but he does not despise it either.

This glorious reality became fresh to me again in a recent Men’s Bible Study through the minor prophets. We were studying Zechariah and we came to chapter 4. I was floored by this verse: “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…(Zechariah 4:10a)

Zechariah was a prophet to the nation of Israel during a difficult time. About 50,000 Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the country that had fallen into ruin for 70 years. But opposition from enemies and apathy from within God’s own people had caused the work to be abandoned for 16 years. When the foundation of the temple had been completed, the young men who had never seen it in its former glory rejoiced greatly, but the older men who remembered its prior greatness wept out loud. Now, years later, the faithful were hopeless, having seen God start to work but wondering if they would ever see the completion. And many of God’s chosen people were there in person but just didn’t seem to care in spirit.

God sent both Zechariah and Haggai to stir up his people. Part of their mission, like the mission of any faithful preacher today, was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. God promised that what was started with the temple would be completed, even soon. What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of all the earth would accomplish it: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zechariah 4:7-10)

What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of hosts would accomplish it. Those who had despised the day of small things would rejoice. But here is the truth that you and I need to see, fellow small-town pastor or ministry leader: even though God promised that a day of rejoicing would come when the work on the temple would be accomplished, that temple was so much smaller than the temple during Solomon’s splendor. It would be a great work, but it would be a small work.

It would bring rejoicing even from those who had despised the small beginnings before, but it would still be small. And God was pleased with it.

God was saying in effect, “Don’t despise what I am pleased with.”

This call to both long for God to do great things and yet to be content with where God has our church and our work in our small places today can seem impossible sometimes. How can we both want revival more and yet need it less, as Small Town Summits co-founder Stephen Witmer calls us to?  

The secret is in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”

Fellow laborers in small places, you have an even better word than Zechariah received because you are a minister of the New Covenant. You not only have the promise that God will accomplish his work in small places because of his Spirit’s work, you actually have the Holy Spirit living in you to bring you God’s power and strength and joy for each new day.

And if you have ever despised the day of small things, be still before the Lord and seek his heart for your small-place ministry. Hear him say to you, “Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.”

That rejoicing can begin today. God’s Spirit guarantees it.

5 Reasons I Love Being a Pastor

My article first appeared on the Baptist Convention of New England’s blog.

Being a pastor is difficult. I remember my mentor in ministry telling me when I was in my early twenties that if I could do anything else, I should do that. He warned me there would be days that I wished I was working in any other sort of job. He was right. I can tend towards dwelling on the difficult and the negative some days because they are what so often are calling for our attention: solving problems, considering the next step in loosening or tightening COVID restrictions, wondering how this next phone call or meeting will go, remembering that I forgot to check in with somebody undergoing a trial. The list goes on.

But there are also many blessings in being a pastor. There are so many reasons I count it one of the greatest privileges of my life, so many reasons to thank God for being a pastor and so many reasons I love being a pastor.

In keeping with Paul’s admonition to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Phil. 4:8) I want to list five of the many reasons I love being a pastor.

1. I get to teach and study God’s Word as part of my job.

For all of the stresses that being a pastor entails, and the pressure of the Sunday morning sermon deadline, and all of the spiritual battles that come my way, every week I get to – and am expected to – spend hours studying God’s Word and preparing to teach it. This is an inestimable privilege.

I once heard an older pastor say that he couldn’t believe that he gets paid to study God’s Word. That is a perspective that I need to keep in mind and thank God for weekly. It is a joy to spend time in God’s Word and be filled up with it and challenged by it so that I can have the joy of equipping, encouraging and stretching God’s people with it. May I never take this for granted.

2. I get to be there for people’s highs and lows in life.

Some of my favorite moments in pastoring are being right there for the ups and downs of people’s lives and being used by God in those situations to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

It is a joy to pray with new parents while holding a newborn baby, and it is a joy to see the radiance in the eyes of a couple getting married while standing right behind them. It is also a different, somber kind of joy to be able to help a couple apply God’s Word to their marriage struggles when the need for counseling comes. It is something I would never trade to have the privilege of praying with a newly bereaved relative thanking God for the life of their loved one, sometimes while the body is still in the room.

These intense times of ministry bond me with God’s people and remind me each time of some of the unique reasons I love being God’s hands and feet. It is also special to be able to often minister during these highs and lows in people’s lives with my wife as she uses her gifts with me. May I never take this for granted.

3. I get a front-row seat to God’s work.

Another benefit to being a pastor that I love is getting a front-row seat to God’s work. The average church member does not have the joy of seeing some of the mercy ministry that goes on in secret in the life of a church. It is a holy privilege to know about an act of love in Jesus’ name that only God, myself and the other person involved know about due to confidentiality. It is a distinctive joy to not only ache at marriage problems but also to rejoice with a couple who is now reaping the benefits of following God’s ways in their relationship. I alone get to “see the lightbulb come on” in the middle of a sermon for that person who has been trying to figure out what they believe about Jesus. I alone sometimes get to see tears of repentance over sin or tears of hope due to longing for Heaven and being reunited with a beloved spouse or child.

I know that God is always doing a million things and that we are usually only aware of a few of them at any given moment, but as a pastor I literally get to see God’s invisible hand working out his plan for His glory and His people’s good every week, if I have the eyes to see it. May I never take this for granted.

4. I get to see people come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord and then baptize them.

“I wasn’t sure before, but I know that I know Jesus now,” the 16-year old boy told me in the car as we drove from Subway after getting his monthly favorite sub (ham with black olives – lots of black olives!) and catching up on high school life.

“What’s the change?” I asked, excited as I had been praying for him for years as he had been coming to youth group ever since I became a youth pastor.

“I didn’t care about sin before, but now I don’t want to sin anymore because I love Jesus,” he replied.

I never would have been part of that conversation if God had not called me to be a pastor. Baptisms – whether the believer going public grew up in the church or recently began to attend – are some of the most joyous Sundays on the calendar. When you get to talk about the gospel, make disciples and baptize as part of your job, you are blessed. May I never take this for granted.

5. I get the privilege of serving Jesus as His errand boy.

Harold Senkbeil, in his book The Care of Souls, says that a sheepdog’s tail is always wagging when he is working and that he always has one eye on his master. Too often my tail is not wagging because in those moments or days I have my eyes off of the master. But some days, as I look to the day ahead and ask Jesus for strength and wisdom to serve His church that He has promised to build, it will hit me with a wave of joy: I get the privilege to serve Jesus as His errand boy today – wherever and in whatever way He may choose to take me for that day or that season. May I never take this for granted.

I don’t say it often enough – I love being a pastor.

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.

3 Ways a Pastor & His Wife Can Stay Madly In Love

This article first appeared on the Baptist Convention of New England blog and then at For The Church.

Pastors and wives, don’t forget that there is one time the Bible commands you to get drunk: “…Be intoxicated always in her love.” (Proverbs 5:19) God wants you to be drunk with love for your spouse. This is best for you, best for your spouse, best for your kids, best for your church, and it glorifies God. Pastors and wives face unique pressures and challenges due to our roles in the body of Christ. Here are three ways a pastor and wife can stay madly in love through all of the ups and downs of pastoral ministry.

Remember Jesus is married to the church. You are not.
It is no secret that pastors often struggle with working too much. There is always more to do. Unlike a contractor who can look at a remodeling project and say it is done or an accountant who can say the books are balanced, pastoral ministry is never ever finished until Jesus comes back.

But remember, Jesus is married to the church. You are not. Don’t try to be Jesus for your church. The church only needs one Savior, and you are not Him. But you are married to your spouse. We will all stand before God and answer not only for how we loved His church, but also for how we loved our spouse.

Yes, there will be weeks and seasons that are overly busy, and every pastor and wife has to grapple with that fact and communicate, work together and show grace during those busy times. But not every season can be that way or something is out of balance, and your ministry, not to mention your marriage, will suffer because of it.

Over the years I have been guilty of prioritizing discipleship of others over prayer and Bible reading with my wife. But when I love her as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:22-33), including having time for her, I also love His church better. Sometimes this may mean taking a “comp day” off after an especially busy season and doing something fun together, or going home early without guilt to help with home projects if they have been neglected due to your recent ministry schedule.

Remember your friendship.
Both a pastor and his wife can struggle with forgetting to prioritize their friendship. Pastors often have trouble letting go of things at church, and because ministry is a joint endeavor (as it should be), pastor’s wives can also easily prioritize ministry opportunities over their husbands.

My grandfather was a pastor for over 40 years, and he and my grandmother, who were married for 64 years, would often say that one of their secrets for a happy marriage was laughing together. Make sure you are taking all of your vacation days, and not just taking care of ministry and home responsibilities together. Play a game. Watch a funny movie that you both enjoy. Exercise together. Go outside together. Get a babysitter or do a child care swap so you can go out on a date together. Invest in each other as friends.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 reminds us that life is fleeting, and that God has given us a spouse to enjoy life with. “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun…” “Vain” can also be translated “fleeting” or “vapor.” Life is like a vapor. Enjoy and invest in your friendship with your spouse, and your oneness will grow: emotionally, mentally, sexually and spiritually. Time with your spouse is never wasted time.

Remember your first love is Jesus.
When I am closer to Jesus, I am closer to my wife. I mean truly closer to Jesus, in my heart, not just thinking I am closer because I am doing the right things. Why is this?

Paul David Tripp helpfully explains in his book, What Did You Expect?, “A marriage of love, unity and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship…No marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator.”

This applies to pastors and wives as much as anyone else. When you remember that Jesus is your first love (see Revelation 2:4-5), then His love naturally overflows out of your life onto your spouse. Rekindle your love for Jesus, and be in tune with His heart for reflecting the Gospel in your marriage. Then your marriage will be like a fireplace on a winter day that keeps you both warm, and at the same time gives warmth and light to others.

5 Reasons Every Pastor Should Be Involved in VBS or Camp Ministry

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Me with 185 campers at Camp Gilead for Junior Camp, July 2018 (www.campgilead.org)

This article was featured at For The Church.

I know, I know, I can already hear the objections and excuses. We pastors are often tired, overworked, and burdened men. That is exactly why I ask you to consider being involved in VBS and/or Christian camp ministry next summer, or this summer if it’s not too late. We need the joy these ministries offer.

I didn’t say that you or I should be directing VBS or Camp Ministry, but involved. I do believe in pastors equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), and that churches are healthiest when all the members are serving and using their gifts.

Yet, the sheep are encouraged when they see their shepherd getting in the sheep pen with them. Here are five reasons you should climb in, although there are many more:

1. It will bring you joy.
I just came off of 2 weeks of summer youth outreach ministry. The first week was serving as the camp pastor for a Christian Junior Camp (3rd-5th Grade). The second week was simply assisting with the VBS at our church for 4-6 year olds, taking pictures at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camp for older kids that we sponsored at the same time, and teaching 3 Bible studies during the week. I am tired. And full of joy.

It is good to step away from the day to day grind of the church office and admin, and even be outside a bit more. Spurgeon said so: “A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive…[It] would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.” (Lectures to my Students)  

Take a vacation day–or week or two–and do what Spurgeon recommends. But during the week of Vacation Bible School, rearrange your ministry schedule and do what Spurgeon recommends by serving and interacting with kids. If you are only teaching during the Bible study time, step outside with them for game time too.

Hearing children laugh, being in the room with them when they sing and do motions, witnessing a child’s eyes light up when they first hear that Jesus rose from the dead, meeting parents in the community who didn’t even know your church existed before, and doing this all together with others in your church for the glory of Christ, will bring you a large dose of joy.

The complaining and disgruntled church member can wait a week. Seeing the joy of the gospel through children’s eyes can’t wait.

2. You get to share the gospel.
You get to share the gospel with some who have never heard the good news–ever. You get to share the gospel with children who are in your church week after week, but maybe never hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them from your lips. Church members get to see you in the trenches with them, explaining the gospel with both love and seriousness in your eyes and on your face. You get to share the gospel with kids at camp who have never stepped foot in a church, and “church kids” at camp who were in church before they came out of the womb. You get to share the gospel. Enough said.

3. You will appreciate your Children’s Ministry volunteers more.
The Children’s Ministry volunteers in your church probably get little recognition this side of Heaven, and seeing them work so closely with little ones will help you to appreciate them more, and shepherd them better. There is something about seeing them wipe little noses, and wipe glue off of tables, and help a Kindergartner glue a “Jesus Loves You” heart onto a craft stick, and hug a little kid who fell down on the playground, that binds your heart with their hearts. You are in this together, for Jesus’ fame.

Serving with them in Vacation Bible School, or seeing another youth or children’s ministry such as a Christian Camp, will also help give you new ministry ideas for your church and community.

I love VBSDon’t miss out on the fresh ministry ideas and opportunities to improve your ministry to families and the community because you think you need to keep your nose to the grindstone. Sometimes looking up from the grindstone and seeing what is happening around you in ministry through other believers is even more productive for Christ’s Kingdom.

4. It will sharpen your teaching to adults.
If you get an opportunity to teach children–whether it’s a week of chapels at a Christian camp, or even one Bible study during VBS–take it! Being forced to see the Scriptures through the eyes of a 5 year old or a 5th grader will help you to boil it down to the most basic truths. It will help you see the big picture. It will help you illustrate the Word better. It will help you pray for children more. It will help you think of fresh ideas for teaching adults.

5. What would Jesus do?
Think about it: WWJD? Do you really think Jesus would stay holed up in His office while a team of volunteers loved on kids and taught the good news about His death and resurrection to them? His disciples thought so.

But Jesus corrected them: “Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:15-16)

Brothers, for your own heart, and for your ministry, be involved in VBS and camp ministry!