This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
You meet up with a pastor in your area for lunch. When you ask how ministry is going, it is as if you just broke open a dam. He pours forth. His church is going through a difficult time, some are disapproving of his ministry and have threatened to leave. Some have already left. He feels like his church is divided. And then he admits that things have been hard at home as well.
No matter how much he tries, he exhales, it just seems like things aren’t working. “I don’t know why God is putting me through this,” he admits. It’s been about 45 minutes, and this pastor hasn’t asked you a single question. It’s as if joy has been sucked from his life. You resonate with his struggle, but you also grow concerned that this pastor may be falling into self-pity. Hesitant to touch a bruised reed, you pray for him and pay for his lunch.
But as you drive home, you keep praying for him. You can’t get him off your mind the rest of the day. Sure, his ministry is difficult. But he seems to be wallowing, even spiraling. You decide to sit down and write him a letter.
As I was driving home from our lunch today, I couldn’t help but pray to the Lord Jesus for you. You described various struggles and disappointments both at home and in ministry, and as your heavy heart spoke, I resonated with several aspects of your trials. Most other pastors I know have been, at one time or another, tempted as you are right now.
But it occurred to me as I was driving away that in our conversation, I did more listening than responding. While this is understandable, given your desire to pour out your heart to me, I thought it would now be appropriate to encourage and counsel you with an eye toward helping you, dear brother. I’d like to give you some advice from the Scripture, which is of course, as we both know and affirm, the chief place to go when we are tossed and turned with sorrow and bewilderment in whatever form struggles take in our lives as ministers of the gospel.
One of the things you shared with me was disappointment in your home. This is where we need to start—not because I have forgotten or consider unimportant the struggles you are facing in ministry, but because of the impact our time with our wife and children can have upon our ministry. We both know that if there are struggles within the marriage, these tensions ripple outward in our lives. Your children can even begin to notice the tension between their mom and dad, which can also prompt them to manifest their own tension with the two of you.
As you well know, Scripture gives us no uncertain instruction regarding our calling as shepherds: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity, keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim 3:4–5)? Your ministry starts first in your home—indeed, it is the very proving ground for your calling as a pastor.
You would do well to sit down with your wife and ask her to give you an honest assessment of your leadership at home. Humbly listen to her and take whatever wise and loving counsel she provides you. Confess and forsake anything that is hindering your home from characterizing you as a spiritually qualified leader—thus reflecting such proven leadership for the household of God. If God has truly called you to vocational ministry in the church, and I’m not doubting that He has, He has thus summoned you to demonstrate this calling at home first as a proving ground for ministry in the church. Seek to remain above reproach in both spheres, my dear pastor-brother.
You also spent a significant amount of time explaining disappointments within your church. What you shared about some people already having left the church, while others contemplate leaving, can be oh so sorrowful for us as overseers of the flock! Believe me, I know the heartache this can cause, and I certainly heard the excruciating pain in your voice when you said, “I don’t know why God is putting me through this?” But don’t forget that God’s providential purposes for occasions of unrest in the church fellowship could be a strong caution for you not to wallow in self-pity, which is itself nothing more than a mask for pride and arrogance. I don’t say this because I can see into your heart and know what lurks there. Rather, I speak a warning for all of us as undershepherds to resist the temptation to focus upon our own wounds and not enough on the spiritual battles which all ministers face daily. Be very careful that your words, “I don’t know why God is putting me through this” are not a veiled accusation against our gracious, loving heavenly Father. He seeks faithful pastors who focus their attention upon the spiritual warfare for the souls of people. He’s putting you through this season because He’s fighting with you, not against you. Remember, the most powerful battle in your ministry and mine is for the sake of the gospel and its deep roots being implanted into the souls of men and women entrusted to our care.
Given what you shared with me at lunch about your ministry, let me exhort you to consider what actually may be occurring. God may be surfacing certain attitudes and actions in the flock which grieve His Holy Spirit and which must be dealt with. Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks pointedly to these things. I remind you of what Paul challenged them to understand: "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) You and I know, since we’ve both preached through the book of Galatians, certain enemies of the gospel had spied out the churches of the Galatian region of Asia Minor in order to proclaim a false gospel: faith in Christ plus works of the flesh—including Jewish circumcision as a requirement for right standing with God. In Galatians 1, Paul damns this so-called “gospel” and those who teach and embrace it! In grave concern, Paul also writes:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you know being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1–5)
Why am I saying this to you? People leave churches for all kinds of reasons. They are sometimes fueled in leaving by the works of their flesh. They give only lip service to the true gospel but are often deceived—like Paul’s own stinging challenge to these Galatians—and depart churches which won’t tolerate the ongoing expression of such carnal works. And as you and I know, Galatians 5:16–26 speaks of two utterly opposing paradigms—works of the flesh as over against fruit of the Spirit. Make sure you and your church are plainly manifesting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv. 22–23) and the like. Ground your ministry in this true gospel of ours, seeking to unify your people around the life of the Spirit. With such gospel-saturation within your assembly, the works of the flesh become evident, revealing those who are not walking by the Spirit. Starve the flesh in your own life too, in your home and your church. And take to heart for yourself what is Paul’s own self-declaration: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
Are you a pastor facing similar situations in ministry?
We'd love to pray for you.