Written by a team of long-serving pastors, this book explores 11 issues that could threaten to undermine a pastor's ministry, encouraging young pastors to press on in the midst of the unique challenges that come with leading a church.
About the Author
Collin Hansen (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves as the editorial director for the Gospel Coalition. He previously worked as an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine and coedits the Cultural Renewal series with Tim Keller. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter at @collinhansen.
JeffRobinson Sr. (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a senior editor for the Gospel Coalition and serves as the lead pastor for Christ Community Church of Louisville. He also serves as adjunct professor of church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the coauthor ofTo the Ends of the Earth: Calvin's Missional Vision and Legacy.
Timothy J. Kelleris the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the teaching pastorat Summit Church in Naples, Florida. Dave has over 25 years of pastoral experience and has traveled nationally and internationally teaching Christians, equipping pastors, and training church planters.He is the executive director of Sojourn Network, founder of AmICalled.com, and serves on the board of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). Dave is the author of Am I Called?, Rescuing Ambition, and When Sinners Say I Do, as well as a contributing author to Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.
Bryan Chapellis the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Peoria, Illinois. Heis also the host of a daily half-hour radio Bible teaching program,Unlimited Grace, and the founder and chairman of Unlimited Grace Media (unlimitedgrace.com). Bryanpreviously served as the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the author of a number of books, includingHoliness by Grace.
Dan Doriani (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology at Covenant Seminary. He previously served as the senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri, and has been involved in several planning and study committees at the presbytery level in both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Dan lives with his wife, Debbie, in Chesterfield, Missouri, and has three grown daughters.
Juan R. Sanchez (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and the cofounder and president of Coalición. He is the author of several books and a contributor toFaithful Endurance.
John Starke is the lead pastor at Apostles Church in New York City, New York. He is the coeditor (with Bruce Ware) of One God in Three Persons. He is married to Jena and has three children.
Brandon Shields is pastor of Soma Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Read an Excerpt
Ministry Has Left Me Spiritually Listless
Dear Pastor Tim,
Last Sunday I was struck by Paul's words in Philippians 4 that he had learned the secret to contentment. The Lord has given me a great place to serve, and I think it's going reasonably well. I enjoy the deep study of Scripture that comes with preaching every week, and I probably spend at least fifty hours per week on church work.
I continue to grow in my knowledge of the things of God, but my devotional life is lifeless. I'm just not content. I fret a lot over things, especially whether the church is flourishing under my leadership, whether I'm working hard enough, and whether I know enough. I'll admit that though things are going well at the church, I'm not thrilled that other churches around us are growing while we seem to have plateaued. The church has done fairly well under my leadership, but to be frank, I expected more.
Yes, I realize I have much to be content over, but no amount of "success" ever seems to do it for me. Why am I feeling this way? What has left me feeling so listless, even subtly bitter?
Faithfully your friend,
* * *
Dear Discontented Shepherd,
I spent forty-two years in ordained vocational ministry. Many who started with me didn't get to the finish line. It's a grievous percentage. One of the main reasons so many didn't last, I think, is because no one warned them about the ways ministry can tempt one with pride.
This is where Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 have been so helpful to me as a pastor. Paul — the very apostle trained in theology and for ministry by the actual risen Christ — warns us that theological training and life in ministry can lead to conceit if you fail to cooperate with Christ's gracious intervention:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Here are three ways ministry can make you conceited unless God intervenes. Be warned.
Theological Knowledge Can Puff You Up
First, there's the conceit of theological knowledge. Now you might think, It's a stretch to say Paul is arguing that theological knowledge leads to conceit. But elsewhere he says, "We know that 'We all possess knowledge.' But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:1–2 NIV).
Here he's explicitly talking about theological knowledge. Some in Corinth had the right theological knowledge about meat offered to idols, but what did it lead to? Being puffed up. He's saying something simple. Knowing the truth has a tendency to inflate you. You become self-involved, proud of your knowledge and insight. Love, on the other hand, is self-emptying. Love is saying, "Your needs are more important than mine." But being puffed up means that you become more self-involved, you become proud, you become proud of your knowledge, you become proud of your insight. And Paul says that it doesn't have to be that way, but the fact is that it very often is.
In his exposition of Ephesians 6, I think the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jonesare helpful:
Whenever you allow your relationship to the truth to become purely theoretical and academic, you're falling into the grip of Satan....
The moment in your study you cease to come under the power of the truth, you have become a victim of the Devil. If you can study the Bible without being searched and examined and humbled, without being lifted up and made to praise God, or moved with sorrow over what God has endured in you, or amazed at the beauty and wisdom of what Christ has done for you, if you do not feel as much of a desire to sing when you're alone in your study as when you're standing in the pulpit, you are in bad shape. And you should always feel something in this power.
Lloyd-Jones proceeds to identify the marks of someone who has learned to master the Bible as a set of mere information, not extraordinary power. One mark is that you become a spiritual crank. A spiritual crank is someone always complaining about relatively fine shades of doctrinal distinctions, always denouncing others in arguments over Bible translations or denouncing people on the wrong side of the latest theological controversy. A spiritual crank treats the Word of God as something you use, not something that uses you. He's puffed up on intellectual pride and his theological tribe.
Ministry Can Become a False Identity
The second conceit comes from a false identity created by ministry. You will tend to identify personally with your ministry so much so that its success (or lack thereof) becomes your success (or lack thereof). Once you begin to identify in this way, you'll create a false identity based on your performance as a minister. If you don't understand this point, it will be one of your main battlegrounds in the years ahead. What do I mean by false identity?
It can manifest itself in at least four ways:
1. Success: Any of us can build a false identity based on circumstances and performance. Every single Christian struggles with a false identity. Everynon-Christian has a false identity. Those of us in full-time ministry will face the sting of success one way or another. When people come to your church, you're going to feel like they are affirming you, and when people leave your church, you're going to feel like it's a personal attack.
2. Criticism: If your ministry becomes your false identity, you won't be able to handle criticism. Criticism will come and be so traumatic, because it questions how good a pastor you are. Criticism says, "You know, your preaching really isn't very good. ... I want my preacher to be better." It feels like a personal attack. The criticism either devastates you, or you dismiss it and don't grow from it.
3. Cowardice: If your ministry becomes your false identity, you will succumb to cowardice. There are two kinds of cowardice. There's true cowardice — being afraid to rock the boat or to offend the people who give the most money to the church or to preach a word that turns young people off. That's true cowardice. But there's another kind of cowardice that I call "counterfeit" cowardice. This is the cowardice of being too abrasive, of being too harsh, of running people off and then saying, "See, I'm valiant for truth." This also comes from identifying with your ministry.
4. Comparisons: One last sign that you've fallen into a false identity is that you cannot stand comparisons. You get envious when you see others succeeding because you don't think they work as hard as you do or are not as theologically astute as you are. Everything is coming up roses for them in their ministry, and that bothers you.
Pastor, there's nothing worse than identifying with your ministry. And by the way, if you don't think that's going be a lifelong struggle, you don't know your own heart.
Ministry Can Make You Outwardly Focused
When you speak to people about God, you have two options: commune with God, or act like you commune with God. Since the minister's job is to tell people how great God is and how wonderful the Christian life can be, his life needs to reflect it. So you either have to be close to God as you minister, or you have to act close to God. Either you truly learn how to commune with God, or you learn how to fake it: you talk as if you're a lot closer to God than you actually are. And not only do people start to think that, but you start to think it too. This can be devastating for your heart. That's what is so horribly dangerous about ministry.
On Jesus's last night with the disciples, he said one of them would betray him (John 13:21). It's interesting to consider how the disciples responded. They all looked around and asked who this person was. In fact, after Jesus told them that it was the one he would give bread to, they still didn't get it. You know why? Because Judas didn't look any different than they did. Outwardly, he was an effective minister, but inwardly, there was nothing there. He took care of his outward life more than his inward life. Jonathan Edwards, in his great book Charity and Its Fruits, talks about the fact that God used Judas even though he wasn't saved. We don't want that to be our legacy in ministry.
But here's where hypocrisy starts. Ministry is either going to make you a far better Christian or a far worse Christian than you would have otherwise been. It's going to make you a hard, pharisaical hypocrite, or it's going to turn you into a softer, more tender person, because it forces you to go to the throne of grace and to beg the Lord for help in your weakness. The ministry will either drive you to him or drive you away from him. Like Judas, you choose what life you care for.
Overcome Your Conceits
So how do we overcome these conceits? Remember Paul's situation in 2 Corinthians. He's facing false apostles and teachers who are saying he doesn't have the credentials to be a true apostle. Paul counters that he does have the credentials — but not the kind we would expect. He inverts all the categories. Instead of boasting about his theological knowledge, great success, or picture-perfect outward life, he boasts in insults, hardships, and being run out of town on a rail.
This is how he contends that God is truly with him. He tells us to look at all the things God has done to bring him to his knees.
Pastor, consider all the things God has done to break your pride. Look at all the ways he has brought you to the end of yourself so that you would cling to him more tightly. Let all your failures and disappointments and weaknesses drive you like a nail into the love of God. Only by embracing them will you ever become a true minister and make it to the finish line.CHAPTER 2
Is It Time for Me to Go?
D. A. Carson
Dear Pastor Don,
I am writing to let you know that I may have reached the end of my rope at this church and stand in desperate need of your advice. I've been pastoring here for the past forty years and am nearly convinced that perhaps this church's future is not my future. I'm wondering if I should leave or retire. I think the evidence is fairly strong. I've been praying for wisdom, but so far, God has provided me with no clear path forward.
I don't have much gas in the tank of energy when it comes to leadership or preaching. I'm tired, frustrated, and discouraged. Please understand, there are no moral problems. My devotional life remains robust, and there is no hidden sin that would disqualify me. I still love to read good works of theology and church history — mixed in, of course, with a little Marilynne Robinson and Wendell Berry now and then. I simply think it may be time for me to move on for my own good and the betterment of the church. Maybe I've done all I can for my flock. Have I already stayed too long? I've seen other pastors do it even though the handwriting was on the wall. I don't want to do that. It weakens the church and dishonors God when we stay simply because we don't know what else to do.
Please advise. Am I out of bounds biblically, theologically, or ethically? When do you think it wise for a man to consider moving on to another theater of gospel service? I eagerly await your counsel.
Hanging On Too Long
* * *
Dear Hanging On Too Long,
Certain kinds of questions come my way by email fairly regularly — every few weeks, every couple of months. This is not an unusual question, and circumstances that make a man ponder leaving his current place of service are not rare, so I'm not at all taken aback by your question.
When a young pastor asks this question, it is usually prompted by a difficult situation he longs to flee. But it's quite different when a man is in his late fifties, sixties, or seventies. I think you would agree that the first question to ask is this: Are there any biblical and theological principles that should shape our reflection on these matters?
In one sense, you have phrased the question in the right way. You have not reached some long-awaited ideal retirement age and are now looking for an excuse to withdraw from ministry in favor of buying an RV to spend the next couple of decades alternating between fishing lakes and visits to grandchildren. After all, there is no well-articulated theology of retirement in Scripture. Rather, this is a serious question from someone who has borne the heat of the day and who, for various reasons, wonders if it is not only permitted but right to ask if it is time to move on.
In recent years, I've been passing on what I've picked up from a few senior saints who have thought these things through. The most important lesson is this: provided one does not succumb to cancer, Alzheimer's, or any other seriously debilitating disease, the first thing we have to confront as we get older isdeclining energy levels.
Moreover, by "declining energy levels," I am referring not only to the kind of declining physical reserves that demand more rest and fewer hours of labor each week but also to declining emotional energy, without which it is difficult to cope with a full panoply of pastoral pressures. When those energy levels begin to fall is hugely variable (at age forty-five? Sixty-five? Seventy-five?), as is also how fast they fall. But fall they will! It follows that if one attempts at age eighty-five to do what one managed to accomplish at age forty-five, a lot of it will be done badly. Frustrations commonly follow: old-man crankiness, rising resentments against the younger generation, a tendency to look backward and become defensive, even an unwitting destruction of what one has spent a lifetime building up.
I mention three major considerations. I hope these provide some guidance.
First, as long as God provides stable energy levels, one should resist the glitter of common secular assumptions about retirement — for example, that there is (or should be) a universal retirement age, that somehow your work entitles you to a retirement free from all service, that the end of life should be dominated by pleasurable pastimes emptied of self-sacrifice and service. This is not to argue that there is no place for, say, time devoted to creative tasks of one sort or another; it is to argue that it is sub-Christian to imagine that our service across the decades entitles us to a carefree retirement.
Second, once energy levels start to decline (whenever that might be), then, assuming neither senility nor some other chronic disease is taking its toll, the part of wisdom is to stop doing some things so that, with one's limited energy, one can tackle the remaining things with enthusiasm and gusto. I can think of two or three senior saints who have become wholly admirable models in this regard. In their late sixties, they slowly started to put aside one task after another, with the result that, now in their early nineties, they can still do the one or two remaining things exceptionally well. One of them, for instance, will still preach but never more than once a day. And he won't fly anywhere: he travels to the place where he is to preach either by car (with someone driving him) or by train. But when he does preach, you can close your eyes and listen to a man who sounds thirty or forty years younger.
There is a third element in such decisions that is partly subjective, partly temperamental, partly a reflection of one's sense of call — and of the ways these various factors interact with one another. John Calvin died on May 27, 1564, at the age of fifty-four. All his life he held himself to the most rigorous, punishing schedule. On the one hand, that stunning self-discipline, a reflection of his passion for the glory of God and for the promotion of the gospel, was used by God to make the man astonishingly productive. On the other hand, all the biographies I have read of him speculate that if in his latter years he hadslowed down a little, he might have lived a good deal longer — and had he lived another decade or two, still with stable health, he may well have produced a great deal more. But who are we to tell John Calvin what he should have done?
Human motives are usually mixed. On the one hand, there is something hauntingly exemplary about a person who wants to burn out for Christ, to waste no time, to serve others, as Rudyard Kipling put it, to "fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds' worth of distance run"; on the other hand, there may be a wee touch of workaholism in such a stance, in which our self-identityis tied to the number of hours we put in or the number of things we produce.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Faithful Endurance"
Copyright © 2019 Gospel Coalition.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Collin Hansen 11
1 Ministry Has Left Me Spiritually Listless Tim Keller 13
2 Is It Time for Me to Go? D. A. Carson 21
3 My Preaching Always Sounds the Same Bryan Chapell 29
4 I'm under the Fire of Criticism Dan Doriani 41
5 I Would Never Have Attended the Church I Now Lead Tom Ascol 51
6 My Critics Are a Burden for My Wife Juan R. Sanchez Jeanine D. Sanchez 61
7 They've Left, and I'm Crushed! Dave Harvey 71
8 Does Staying in a Small Rural Church Make Me a Failure? Mark McCullough 83
9 I'm Feeling Tired, Worn Out, and in Need of a Break John Starke 93
10 My Church Has Outgrown My Gifts Scott Patty 103
11 How Am I Going to Make It Financially? Brandon Shields 113
12 I've Come to Doubt My Calling Jeff Robinson Sr. 125
Afterword: An Interview with John MacArthur 137
General Index 149
Scripture Index 153
What People are Saying About This
“In ministry, you need companyand the wiser the company, the better. Not all of us enjoy mutually encouraging pastoral friendships with the likes of the contributors to this volume, but here they welcome you into their own lives and experiences and doubts and heartbreaks and trials. In so doing, they offer counsel and hope for those in ministry. And we all need that.”
J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor, CEO, and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary
“Pastors get worn down, discouraged, depleted, and depressed. This short but pastorally rich book will prove to be a spiritual tonic for pastors. I recommend reading and meditating on the essays in this book, which will provide strength and solace for the journey.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“The apostle Paul wrote, ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ.’ We grow not only by learning true concepts but also by following faithful people. In Faithful Endurance, a team of veteran pastors invites younger pastors to follow them into the buffetings and temptations of ministry, offering the path of wisdom that the Lord faithfully provides for every new generation. I wish this fine book had been available to me when I was a young pastor.”
Ray Ortlund, Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“Pastoral ministry often feels like a labyrinth filled with uncertain turns and innumerable blind spots. If ventured on alone, the journey is marked by constant frustration and despair. But if you are joined by a friend, especially a wise one, the journey is not only more enjoyable but also more likely to result in safe passage. While reading Faithful Endurance, I felt accompanied by wise friends who imparted insightful wisdom that I trust will help me and any other pastor to remain faithful until the end.”
Garrett Kell, Lead Pastor, Del Ray Baptist Church, Alexandria, Virginia
“Many pastors face unanticipated troublesministry discouragement, constant criticism, devotional dryness, or feelings of inadequacy and failure. They need seasoned leaders to speak directly to them in the midst of these challenging situations. And they need these leaders to share the wisdom they’ve learned from God’s Word and their own similar experiences. In other words, they need the stabilizing encouragement of this book. I wish I had had it years ago, and I gladly commend it to fellow pastors.”
Drew Hunter, Teaching Pastor, Zionsville Fellowship, Zionsville, Indiana; author, Made for Friendship
“I love this book! It is nearly impossible to overstate the wealth of seasoned, practical, pastoral wisdom that can be found in every chapter. Being called to be a pastor is a high honor, and being commissioned to preach the gospel is a beautiful thing, but the life of a pastor always includes seasons of hardship. Each chapter of this book speaks into those seasons with the tenderness of compassion, the grace of understanding, and the helpfulness of truth spoken in love. If you are a pastor, get this book, read it with an open heart, and then keep it near, because there will be seasons when you will reach for it again and find it to be your friend.”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, New Morning Mercies and Suffering