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.