Any crisis in a small church sends proportionately bigger waves through the congregation than in larger churches. What feels like a bumpy wave in a large church feels like a tsunami in a small church.
Ministers (and anyone leading in a church) can be hyper-critical of themselves and full of self-pity. This is destructive. Survival in ministry depends upon a deep rootedness in the grace of God. Paul advises Timothy, who is encountering a challenging ministry, to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).
Intellectually, understanding that our task is to be servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 4:5) is clear. Still, it was incomprehensible to me to imagine failure and long-term disappointment when the American dream is woven into the very fabric of our lives. No matter how often peers, colleagues, mentors, and the Bible caution us about the rigors of ministry, we can still be unprepared for the shattering of dreams. At least, that was true for me. It was bewildering to be hardworking, sincere, and committed; yet see few “results” (in my estimation) and experience apathy, criticism, and even outright opposition from those I came to help.
I wish we possessed an instrument to measure the impact of our ministries, but then we would not need faith. In addition, people, for whatever reason, seem reluctant to voice their gratitude to those who lead them in the Lord. At any rate, God’s leaders must come to trust more in God’s affirmation and the importance of the mission than appreciation or success. And therein lies the rub: failing.
One of the most important and neglected insights is that a lack of “success” does not mean God has not called us. Resistance to our leading comes in many forms. I have seen contentment with passive, comfortable religion that is resistant to change. This resistance does not often appear as overt opposition, but as spiritual lethargy and allegiance to the status quo.
Reading the struggles, failures, and endurance of God’s servants can provide an important perspective for the definition of success. In addition, listening to the stories of godly, seasoned church leaders, whose struggles are common, can produce a more realistic outlook for ministry (2 Pet. 5:9).
In perplexing times, the way forward is to trust, rely, hope in the Lord. This is the overall message from Scripture. We do not have all the answers. We wish we did, but we do not. We live in an arbitrary, chaotic, irrational, and cruel world (Ecclesiastes). We live in a world of troubles and heartaches, but look forward to a better one (Jn. 14:1-4; 16:33). We are called in chaos to trust God. This is the power in calling: not absolute clarity, but trust.
The priorities of God’s vision as He lays it out in Isaiah 6 are His holiness and grace, and a call for us to take part in his mission to the word.
Much more could be said and should be said. There are others who are wiser and more aware of life in the Spirit than I. However, I believe it is valuable to hear from an average minister, who has more questions than answers, and who has struggled in ministry. Sometimes we aren’t certain of the way forward. It is in God’s hands that we find the reward.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
And my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:3-4).