This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Dear brother in the ministry,
Most people experience seasons of weariness from time to time in their lives, but those who labor in pastoral ministry may find that their daily work makes them particularly prone to that mixture of tiredness and discouragement. Weariness flourishes when our hearts are preoccupied by the situation immediately in front us, but the message of the gospel has a way of putting its finger under the chin of weary pastors and gently raising our gaze to the sure hope that is on the horizon.
If you are wearied by the burdens of ministry . . .
It is just the nature of the work that most pastors will spend more of their time with those people in their congregations who are the most needy, sin sick, and hurting. Over time, that can be emotionally taxing. Add in a sense of responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of the congregation (Heb. 13:17), and you have a recipe for weariness. No wonder the apostle Paul compared his life in ministry to a fight and an endurance race (2 Tim. 4:7).
If you are wearied by the burdens of ministry, remember that you are not alone. The Lord Jesus is with you.
Brother, if you are wearied by the burdens of ministry, remember that you are not alone. The Lord Jesus is with you, the One who bore your need, your sin, and your pain on the cross. His Spirit is with you and will renew you for the work of each day. Remember that you do not have to fix people’s problems; you are merely an under-shepherd—it is the Great Shepherd who saves and heals and delivers his people.
If you are wearied by a lack of fruit . . .
Few things are as discouraging as laboring diligently but not seeing results. You long to see Christ exalted in people’s lives; that’s why you entered into this line of work in the first place. When that doesn’t appear to be happening, it is easy to give in to despair. And maybe in your less noble moments, you are envious of other pastors who seem to put in the same (or less!) work and get a far greater result. Why should they get all of the success? And maybe in your darkest moments, you want to see some fruit from your ministry so that you have some tangible evidence that you are not wasting your life.
My friend, do not fall into the trap of thinking that you can know all that the Lord is doing simply by observing what goes on around you. You cannot know the counsel of God. You cannot know what is happening in the spiritual realm. You do not know what life will spring up in the future from the seeds you have sown. Remember that your job is simply to be faithful; what results from your labor is up to God and God alone (1 Cor. 3:5–8). In his wisdom and providence, God often calls his best servants to trust him by working without the immediate reassurance that comes when we see spiritual fruit. God will use your labors, perhaps not in your timing and perhaps not in the ways you had envisioned. But you can be sure that nothing done in the service of Christ is ever a waste of time.
If you are wearied by your inadequacy for the work . . .
The apostle Paul wondered, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16), and in the past two thousand years many sincere pastors have wondered the same thing. Maybe you are discouraged because your sermons are not as clever as some others’, because you do not always know the right thing to say or the wisest course of action.
Remember that the Spirit is powerful. His ministry does not depend on your skill.
Remember that the Spirit is powerful. His ministry does not depend on your skill. And more importantly, because of the work and ministry of the Lord Jesus, even our most feeble efforts are pleasing to the Lord. The Westminster Larger Catechism reminds us that all our service is pleasing to God, no matter our daily failings:
Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.1
If you are wearied by a lack of appreciation from those you serve . . .
October has been set aside by some as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” but perhaps you serve a congregation that simply does not appreciate you all that much. Some churches view their pastors as a paid provider of religious services; they wouldn’t think to appreciate him any more than they would appreciate their plumber or dentist. You have shared your life with them (1 Thess. 2:8) and when you stop to notice it, their indifference hurts.
But remember, brother, the love of Christ. He loved you when you did not appreciate and value him. And he sees. He knows your faithful service and has promised to richly reward those who labor in pastoral ministry, far beyond anything we could deserve (1 Pet. 5:4).
Pastoral ministry in a broken world will always give us reasons to feel weary. But the love of the Father, the work of the Lord Jesus, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit gives us fresh strength and hope: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1).
1. Westminster Larger Catechism, answer to question #55, italics mine