To say this has been a difficult year would be a massive understatement. For that reason, I have needed lots of encouragement as a pastor. I never would have anticipated the challenges that have confronted us, and continue to confront us. March 15th was the first Sunday our church did not meet in person. At that point, I naively thought the COVID crisis would be short-lived. Then the death of Ahmaud Arbery occurred. Along with George Floyd. And others. Political tensions. Conspiracy theories.
In addition to these, our church has faced internal conflicts. Maybe this has been the case in your church as well. I’ve spoken with many pastors, and I’ve heard of various types of trials and struggles that churches are facing in a unique way right now. There are the “usual” struggles of church life. But add to that the intense pressure of coronavirus, racial tensions, and politics, and we find ourselves wondering how we can endure. At least, that’s the question I’ve been asking myself. And I’ve been reaching out for help.
I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to connect with many pastors who have shared words of counsel and encouragement. Here are some simple points that I have found helpful.
Remember Your Calling
First, think back to the season of your life when God was stirring in your heart to pursue pastoral ministry.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
When did that verse grab a hold of you? When did you sense that passion within you? At what moment did it dawn on you that your desire for pastoral ministry was greater than the desire to have wealth or acclaim or comfort?
This year you may be having second thoughts. But remember, God has called you to this. Consequently, He has a purpose for you, and for those you serve.
Dwell in the Psalms
When I’m drained, discouraged, on the verge of despair, I know I can find friends in the Psalms. Certainly, I can pray along with those who are lamenting.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
I can pray in ways that remind me of God’s care and control.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1–3, ESV)
Even in the midst of trials, I can pray in ways that remind me to give thanks.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)
In the Psalms, we can find a wide range of emotions. As we’re experiencing many intense emotions this year, dwelling in the Psalms can help us process those emotions in ways that turn our attention to God—to His kindness and sovereignty. They have given me encouragement as a pastor.
Lean on Your Brothers
Think of the ways Paul encouraged and exhorted Timothy and Titus. Who are your brothers in the faith, your mentors who you can call when you’re feeling desperate? My fellow elders in our local church have been a tremendous encouragement to me in tough times. I don’t know how I could have endured without them.
There are also a number of other pastors outside our church, older and wiser men who I’ve been able to speak to over recent months. Some of these men I know well. While others I’ve connected with more recently through mutual friends in ministry. The advice they’ve given has been extremely insightful and encouraging. Plus, it’s reassuring to know that I’m not in this alone and that others have been through, and are going through, similar trials.
Enjoy Your Family
When the demands of ministry are pressing in, and the stress level is high, I have found myself not giving sufficient attention to my wife and kids. But they need me. And I also need them.
My identity shouldn’t be wrapped up too tightly in pastoral ministry. Certainly, that is my calling and it’s significant. But it’s not my only calling. God has given me a wonderful wife, and I am called to love her well. God has given me four awesome kids, and I am called to shepherd them well, which means spending time with them in meaningful ways.
My wife and kids have been very patient with me, and they have been a huge help in the midst of the intense ministry demands of this year. I thank God for them. And I’m grateful for the joy they bring me as we go on hikes, enjoy sports together, watch a good movie, or sit together at the dinner table hearing about everyone’s day. These activities aren’t distractions—they’re some of the most significant moments of my life.
Get Some Rest
Don’t be bull-headed, thinking you can solve problems by working harder. If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be that we are often helpless to protect ourselves from lurking dangers (sickness, injustice, conflict, turmoil, etc.). We can’t solve all the problems, and that should make us look to the only One who is actually in control. We need to rest in Him.
Rest is an act of faith, an acknowledgment that we are needy. There have been many days when my thoughts are racing from one issue to the next, analyzing possible solutions, possible responses, trying to process how I’m going to do everything that has been dropped in my lap—how to transition to online church, how to transition back to in-person gatherings, how to respond to current events, how to shepherd the flock through these tumultuous times. One of the ways my mind has found rest in the midst of all this is through music.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed the music of Andrew Peterson. In recent months, a number of his songs have ministered to me in powerful ways. One of my favorites has been, “The Dark Before the Dawn,” especially the following lines:
So I’m waiting for the King
To come galloping out of the clouds while the angel armies sing
He’s gonna gather His people in the shadow of His wings
And I’m gonna raise my voice with the song of the redeemed
‘Cause all this darkness is a small and passing thing.
Listening to and meditating on the truth of such songs has been a way that I’ve found rest. Undeniably, they have given me encouragement as a pastor.
Look to Heaven
Finally, we look to the hope we have of heaven.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things, have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Pastor, may God use these means of grace, and many more, to help you persevere. We will be sanctified, and He will also be glorified, as we follow Him through this turbulent storm. Be encouraged.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6–7)