When Ministry Gets Gritty
Fingernails on the chalkboard. Leaky bathroom faucets at 4 a.m. Chirping smoke alarms that can’t be found. Screaming toddlers in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Annoying? Off-putting? Of course. Pastor’s wives, let’s get personal. Ministry can be irritating as well. The chief deacon’s old lady chews you out over the phone for missing a missionary meeting. A needy church member calls you 27 times a day asking for your advice, and never takes it. You try to plan a date night with your husband, and Sunday’s sermon, Monday’s business meeting, Tuesday’s funeral, Wednesday’s prayer service, Thursday’s wedding rehearsal, Friday’s wedding and Saturday’s frantic sermon prep squelch all hope of romance and re-connecting.
The little (and sometimes big) frustrations of daily living can steal our joy and sabotage our relationships. Chain reactions occur. Preacher Dad comes home furious because Brother Bill Busybody belittled him in front of the pastoral staff. Grumbling all the way home, your hubby yells at you for parking your car in front of the mailbox. You holler at your kids (currently acting like the spawn of Satan) for tracking mud from the yard onto the just-vacuumed carpet. Junior kicks Fido. Fido snarls at Puff the cat. And Puff, well, Puff always carries a grudge.
Does God want us to squirm occasionally? Does our Heavenly Father intentionally place us between a rock and a hard place? I believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” He allows us to daily drive over potholes to cultivate godly character. He meticulously grooms His precious pastors and wives to be solid servants of God. I have found that ministry is both glorious and gritty.
The temptation in these trying moments is to become angry with God, to cocoon or to throw in the towel. My husband and I have talked with many pastors who have left their posts and are happily selling insurance. (Although, in one of Roger’s weaker moments, he found that the want ads had nothing available for a guy with doctorates in Greek and religion). Do you know the average stay for a pastor in the Southern Baptist Denomination is 18 months? How can you even get to know everyone’s name in that blip of time? (Roger and I are quite forgetful!) The great blessing of staying power is the returns you reap on the long haul. After ministering in the same church for 36 years, we have helped our church members birth their babies, baptize their neighbors and bury their dead. They are, deeply and truly, our family. One of the squirmy little boys who wiggled and whispered through Roger’s sermons has now assumed the role of senior pastor, along with several of his Sunday School buddies who now serve on our pastoral staff.
Listen to the words of Paul the apostle in Romans 5:3-5:
"...We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." NIV
When God puts our feet to the fire, our instinctive response is to pull away and search for the Aloe Vera. But we must allow the Holy Spirit to take us behind the heavenly curtain to see God’s long-range eternal purpose. Notice God’s recipe for spiritual growth: suffering, perseverance, character and hope. Paul the Apostle had been through the fire himself. His words were not hypothetical, they were highly personal. Persecuted, imprisoned, beaten with rods, ship-wrecked -- this guy had been through the wringer. Then he wrote the epistle of joy (the letter to the Philippians) from a dark, dank Roman prison cell.
When, by the grace of God, you remain in the vice of suffering and allow God to do His refining work, you learn perseverance. God loves His chosen servants to hang in there. No tear will go unnoticed, no prayer unheard, no act of kindness unrewarded. The Savior loves His shepherds and shepherdesses. A “pastor’s crown” awaits you in glory!
“Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance” (Romans 5:3 AMP).
The Greek word for endurance is fascinating. Endurance paints a picture of someone holding up a heavy stick of lumber. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it was for Moses hold the Rod of God on the day the sun stood still? Joshua and the Israelite troops were battling away and the only way to win was if Moses lifted the wooden staff high to the sky like a holy cheerleader. He finally had some buddies who helped him keep his stick aloft, but can you imagine all the discomfort of feeling the blood rush down your arm, followed by tingling numbness, agonizing pain and muscle spasms? When we suffer and hold our faith aloft, we become tough, tried, and experienced.
Dog trainers know the secret of success in training canines. God’s skillful pastor-training is no different. How does the dog whisperer do it? No matter what distractions he places around the pet -- a juicy T-bone, a petulant cat, a supersonic ear splitting pitch -- the well-trained puppy never loses eye contact with His master. In a calm voice, the master says, “Wait … waaaitt ... come!” And the doggie comes. Every time.
We must learn to do the same.
Suffering’s Divine purpose is to fix our eyes on our Master without wavering. Grief and loss wound us at home and at church. “Wait.” A trusted friend betrays us. “Wait.” Financial reversals shake us. “Wait.” And “wait” is always followed by “Come.”
28If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. 29Take the yoke [a] I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest (Matthew 11:28-29, CEV).
God wants us to fix our eyes on Him. Take our cues from Him. Surrender to His wise wishes for our lives.
Perseverance produces character. Good parenting teaches a child to respond to any situation in a predictable manner. Good character is often described as “integrity” and “wholeness.” Trustworthiness is a remarkable quality. A trustworthy person is someone upon whom you can depend. A person of character has no duplicity. What you see is what you get. We must be honest, spiritual and faithful. Earnest and truthful, God’s Word remains our bedrock for life.
Paul’s words in Romans 5:4 promise us that character produces hope? Why? Is hope an elusive expectation that everything will turn out well in the end like a TV sitcom? Paul concludes that hope is a steady assurance of God’s deep, personal and steadfast love. The Greek word for “hope,” elpis, is a derivative of the word for God Himself, Elohim. There is no hope apart from God. Paul’s word picture describes the Holy Spirit lavishly pouring God’s Divine love into our hearts and lives.
The essence of Paul’s message is that when we suffer, we discover the depths of God’s love for us -- a love so deep and profound that our hearts are inextricably linked to God’s heart. He is our passion and our joy.
So wait. Wait. Waaaaait. Come!
“Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and [tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] [joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, Amplified Bible).
Precious, persevering pastors and wives, when ministry gets gritty, be gutsy and grab onto God. Glory lies ahead.
Previously published, with revisions, on preachitteachit.org.