By Will Cunningham
In the last 3 months of this new year, I have had the fortune to sit with several pastors to hear their hearts toward the ministries God has them in. Some have noted how hard it has been over the last couple of years, repositioning themselves in a pandemic and post-pandemic world. Their concern: the sheep have scattered, congregation attendance is down, online attendance is up, and budget is being met, yet this concern of “I am still not sure how to do church this way” lingers. Others have struggled with wanting to quit due to stress, loss of vision, or failure of some sort in the church or personal life. Several churches are struggling to identify new leaders, laymen, and pastor staff. (For Heart for Lebanon Church partners, we can clearly say that at least 10% of our partners are struggling with this).
In a recent Barna Report (Pastors Well Being), the research also showed that 38% of the pastors were desiring to quit ministry in late 2021. Almost a 10% increase from the beginning of that same year. The director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Professor Scott Thumma, insinuates that pastors are still dealing with exhaustion and uncertainty as the post-pandemic period wanes and that 2 out of 5 Christian pastors have considered quitting this past year.
By way of a case study, last year during a walk with my wife around the Appalachian mountain road we live off of in North Carolina, I began to vent to her how tired I was and wondered if I was making a difference in the name of the Lord to those I serve. (Aside from working with Heart for Lebanon, I also own a Christian counseling practice, conducting over 630+ sessions a year). I told her that I was thinking of throwing in the towel at the end of the year, because it was too difficult. To my surprise, she stopped the walk and turned to me, looking up into my eyes squarely and stated to me firmly and faithfully: “William! You will pick up that towel you are thinking about throwing in; you will wipe off the sweat of your brow and move forward without fail!” My breath was barely taken back, before her follow on summation came to me with more vibrato: “Furthermore! YOU WILL LIVE OUT THE MEASURE OF DAYS GOD HAS GIVEN YOU WILLIAM AND YOU WILL LIVE THEM OUT IN THE DEEP END! DO YOU HEAR ME! THE DEEP END! She then turned around and commenced to walk on while I stood there in complete shock to what had just happened. I wanted to jump in the ditch and just die for the unfiltered thoughts that I had not prayerfully taken to God.
This is a personal case study that I hope you find self-fulfilling, regardless of what ministry you are in. For me, I pondered three questions after that convicting moment. First, I needed to be reminded that I am called to do what I do, not hired. And I had to ask myself, “Am I still called?” Secondly did I still care for those that God has brought into my world? And thirdly, was I beginning to think of the ministry as a curse, spell-binding my life into ruin? Frankly, I was just tired, exhausted, and working in my own strength.
In the book of Mark, the 6th chapter, verses 32 thru 44, there is an account of Jesus feeding the 5000. I’d like you to take your eyes and observe what it says in verse 34: after the multitude of people ran to Jesus from every city: “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So, He began to teach them many things.”
The late great preacher, Graham Scroggie once stated that ministry begins with “wet eyes, a broken heart and bent knees.” He was referencing Psalm 51: 17, where King David outlines his need to be restored over his great sin with Bathsheba. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David was broken over the condition of his own heart. From that acknowledgement, his spirit was broken. Some may say, he was crushed by what he learned about himself. The result of this is that God will not leave him undone. He will not despise and turn away from David’s greatest need; restoration. It may be an interesting study to note the correlation in Matthew 5:3, where Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The main point here is we must have a broken heart for the condition of man’s heart. This is where the calling begins.
The word calling is mentioned some 594 times in the Bible in different variations. In all accounts, its meaning is rooted in the idea of an invitation. In the New Testament, it is mostly inferred to be a divine invitation, something to embrace that is of the kingdom of God and not the view of humanity. If I may even suggest, a vocational divine invitation. This again is seen in Jesus in Mark 6:34, where he saw the multitude and the need for a shepherd. He took it upon himself to vocationally do something about it. He taught them, shepherded them, and fed them eternal truths to connect with God the Father.
In your congregation, your Bible Study, Sunday School class, home fellowship, family or workplace, can you see that many are in great need of eternal truths, encouragement, prayer, and hope? Pastor, teacher, layman; we are called. If you can’t see that, then remove yourself immediately from the ministry. Immediately and go find something else to do, because it just may be that you are in it for yourself and not because you are called.
This word in the Greek is Merimna and is often used in the form of worry/anxious, yet its root meaning is to be thoughtful. In 1 Peter 5:7, Peter teaches us “to cast our cares (anxieties) upon Him, for He cares (He is thoughtful or mindful) for you.” If we are to be God’s hands and feet, if we are to be called, we must be mindful of God’s people; thoughtful toward them. A great read on this thought can be seen in the book of Hosea which is a type of Christ and His heart for the Church.
I think of other prophets and missionaries that have gone out because they are called. In the Old Testament, many prophets had no success ministering to God’s people. Jeremiah had not one convert and no one listened to him for 40 years. Forty Years! Think about the other prophets that were stoned, and others were sent off to even greater tragic tasks that were outside their first callings, like Jonah. Some of our own contemporaries like Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who stayed true to her calling to minister even through harsh environments. Or Mother Teresa who sacrificed great personal comforts to be used by God in her calling.
I am also reminded that some of our own missionaries with Heart for Lebanon, like Camille and Hoda Melki, or Bashir and Milad, as well as 55 other workers in the field have been faithful to the call to care for the people that God has put in front of them. This, they do, in the midst of a collapsing economy, corrupted government, and with little resources.
I am reminded that Job was tempted to curse God for his calling, even though he went through great stresses in his life. Satan had come to God and dared Him to touch Job in his flesh, tempting him against his calling to follow God with faithfulness and believed he would curse God to His face. Job 2:3-6. This is what Satan often does. Tempt us to curse God, because of the weight of the ministry He has given us. Let us not curse Him, let us be thankful that He would find us faithful to serve His people, regardless of what calamity that we are faced with. Its His ministry, His people, His vision to restore, we are but the instruments that are called to care.
Inspired byMark 6:32-44