Discouragement is a normal occurrence in the Christian life, especially in pastoral ministry. One way discouragement can occur is through comparing your size of influence to that of someone else. You can do this through various means: size of congregation, social media followers, likes, retweets, shares, invitations to speak at conferences or events, and the list could go on. Comparing yourself to another pastor on these subjects will either lead to discouragement or, even worse, sin. In light of this, I want to encourage pastors to persevere based on two realities: (1) the high calling God has put on their lives and (2) the high priority Jesus puts on caring for His sheep.
God’s Calling on Your Life
When I was wrestling with being called into pastoral ministry, I sat down with my pastor, and one of the first things out of his mouth was, “Nic, if you are not called to this, do not do it! But if you are called, there’s nothing else you can do.” His words were true then, and they are true now.
Whether we like our size of influence or not, the call of God is what compels us to be faithful to Him and His work through us. There is no doubt pastoral ministry has its challenges––like when you preach your guts out and no one responds. Or when you sit through a committee or deacons’ meeting that is more a of gripe session than it is actual kingdom work. Or when you have adversity in the congregation because you are pointing out sin in people’s lives. Or when attendance, giving, and baptisms are down. The thought, no doubt, can cross your mind that if you were more popular, you would not have to deal with these seemingly menial things. If you could just attain some level of celebrity status you could circumvent these things.
Set aside for a moment the fact that the very concept of a “celebrity pastor” is completely unbiblical. You must remember that God has called you to this task, and many of these seemingly menial things are part of the work to which He has called you. Feel the weight of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to the flock, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28, emphasis added)
Your situation might be difficult, especially when you compare it to the pastor down the road, but you must remember that God has called you to this work. And that settles it. If you look for validation of your pastoral call by comparing yourself to another pastor in terms of Twitter followers, retweets, Facebook likes, conference speaking engagements, then you will always lose! You will be discouraged because that is not where the validation of your work comes from. God has called you to this task, and He will sustain you through every season as you labor for His sake.
Christ’s Care for His Sheep
Time and again, we see Jesus moved to compassion when He looks out among the crowds (Matthew 15:13; Mark 6:34; Luke 19:41–42). In fact, Jesus shed His blood to purchase such people, people like you and the church you are pastoring (Acts 20:28). Meditate on that truth for a moment: Christ, the Great Shepherd, cared for His people so much that He was willing to die for them. And He chose to put you among them in order to model that love and teach them about it. You do this both publicly and privately, knowing that such work may never be recognized on this earth.
You may preach the best sermon you’ve ever preached and yet have no one tweet about it. You might pray the best prayer and have no one post about it. You could visit the sick, evangelize the lost, lead a staff meeting, and still have no one praise you for it. Our holy motivation to do all these tasks should be to show the love of Christ. But if you live in a world of comparison, you will fail to shepherd well the flock God has entrusted to you. The temptation will be to compare your flock to another flock down the road, or you might even compare it to the flock you wish they were (which usually means you wish they were perfect). Instead, you must lovingly shepherd the flock of God that is before you and strive with God’s power to present them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
Pastor, if you are discouraged due to comparing yourself to others, then maybe you need to step away from social media for a while. Maybe it would be helpful for you to remember the calling that God has placed on your life and the compassion Christ has for you and your flock. Remember, we each have a role to play in the kingdom of God. Regardless of our size or platform, we will be judged on how faithful we are to Christ. To that end, may we give up comparing and continue living out this glorious ministry we’ve received.