Dear Pastor,

What a year it has been. Did seminary prepare you for church-life in 2020—divisions that have nothing to do with the gospel, long-time members leaving because politics have not been emphasized as they thought they should be, the decline in giving because of the COVID-19 fallout? I’ll go out on a limb and say that none of this was covered in your pastoral ministry class. I know it wasn’t covered in mine.

In the last 20 years of ministry, I have not seen anything like this. The pressures of the day have revealed cracks within our churches—cracks that were always there, but never before noticed—cracks that are now visible and prominent.

Never have Paul’s words been more appropriate, “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16). I know you’re feeling the weight of your inadequacy today. I am too. I know you’re drained physically, after hours of conversations with disgruntled members. I am too. I know you’re tired emotionally, feeling the heartache of church members (friends!) leaving the church, knowing they are not coming back. I am too.

And all of this is on top of the already impossible task the Lord has given us to fulfill. He’s called us to preach on His behalf (2 Cor 5:18), weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15), guide people in the way of righteousness (Prov 11:4), shepherd His sheep (1 Peter 5:2), present our people before Christ spiritually mature (Col 1:28)—all while trying to maintain our own holiness of life (1 Tim 3:2); while the flesh temps us to sin (Col 4:5) and Satan roams around like a wild animal, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Who is adequate for these things? No one! Not you, and certainly not me. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

If we felt sufficient for these days and this calling, then something would be terribly wrong—we would either have a bloated view of ourselves, a dangerously low view of our enemy, or both. Oh, the humility we need within the ministry!

And yet, as inadequate as we most certainly are—the Lord has made us more than adequate to fulfill our calling. Isn’t that what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5–6? “Not that we are adequate in ourselves ... but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” We need not despair. The Lord has made us adequate for this day, to lead our church and fulfill His calling. He has gifted us to speak for Him (1 Peter 4:11). He’s promised to build His church (Matt 16:18). He’s given us an inspired word that never returns void (Isa 55:11)—able to save and sanctify (2 Tim 3:16–17), convicting the heart (Heb 4:12) and conforming the hearer into the image of Christ (Rom 12:2). He’s given us access to His throne of grace, promising that He will grant us “mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). He’s promised to strengthen us with all power so that we would be faithful and steadfast (Col 1:11). What promises! What grace!

And so what are we—as inadequate ministers of the gospel, overwhelmed with the challenges we face, coupled with the high calling we have been given—to do? We must embrace our inadequacy, and rest in the Lord’s promises. We must confess our insufficiency, and serve in His strength. We must realize the weakness of our own words, and direct our people to the Scriptures. We must accept our limitations, and pray for our people.

The Lord is humbling us, dear brother, by showing us just how insufficient we truly are. But that is all by design, so that we will not steal the credit for the work only God can do within our people. Our inadequacy must be exposed, so that God’s greatness will be displayed.

In Christ,

Patrick Slyman