For years, I have heard other pastors, seminary professors, and popular conference speakers encourage pastors to pursue ministry faithfulness over “success.” This encouragement is needed because of the dangers of chasing arbitrary successes over trusting that our faithfulness is enough.
Seeking “success” in the pastorate is not only unbiblical, it’s impossible to define because no two pastorates are the same. God has called each pastor to serve in a unique context and under varying circumstances that makes holding up a singular definition of success impossible—unless success is defined as faithfulness. Pastors who reject faithfulness to chase after successes they see in the ministries of others will eventually find frustration and burnout. Instead, the goal of every pastor should be to remain faithful to their calling and their people, trusting that our faithfulness is sufficient.
Unique and Dramatic Changes
Back in March, everything changed for pastors in a matter of days because of COVID-19. I believe most pastors are relatively versatile, but the adaptability suddenly required in our ministries challenged even the most resourceful and flexible pastor.
Each week, we were faced with new challenges and were forced to make difficult decisions with little time to process all the information. All of a sudden, even the simplest tasks that we had performed hundreds of times before, were now complicated, and in some cases, impossible. Not being able to gather with our congregations, visit members, and oversee special services left many of us frustrated and seeking some sense of normalcy in ministry. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unique and dramatic changes to every aspect of pastoral ministry. Yet, the one thing that has not changed is the goal of every pastor: faithfulness.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the drastic changes COVID-19 has forced upon us pastors, and how if we are not careful, we might just give up on our call to faithfulness. In all the chaos, the tasks of pastoral ministry might be more difficult than before—at the very least they have drastically changed to barely resemble pre-COVID. Take a moment to reflect on the past 6 months of preaching, visitation, prayer, communication, discipling, evangelism, overseeing, and leading services. Each is an essential part of pastoring and what it means to be faithful in ministry. Each, in its own way, has been impacted by the pandemic.
We find ourselves exerting more time and energy to stay faithful in these essential tasks of pastoral ministry, but our faithfulness is probably best described as something that resembles treading water. Consider the difference between someone swimming laps in a pool, and someone who is treading water. The swimmer is making progress; they are moving across the water towards some goal. The one treading water is merely staying afloat; they are going nowhere. Both are swimming under the same circumstances, and both are safely staying above water. They may even be exerting the same amount of energy, but there is a notable difference in the progress of the two swimmers.
Six months into COVID-19, I feel like I’m merely treading water. I feel at times like my faithfulness isn’t enough. As pastors, we might be putting in even more hours than we were before, but there’s a good chance we have less to show for it. And this just might begin to weigh on us, wear us down. We are still faithfully studying the Word, preaching the Word, praying for others, caring for our flock, discipling believers, and leading the church, but it looks and feels so different than before. At times, we might be tempted to believe that our faithfulness just isn’t enough. This is when a sinister little temptation begins to arise in our hearts and minds. As we begin to question whether our faithfulness is making any difference at all, we grow frustrated and discontented. In our discontentment, we naturally begin to search for what other pastors and churches are doing during the pandemic that maybe we should be doing. We look for those pastors who are swimming rather than treading water; we look for those who we believe are successful and worth imitating.
We quickly disregard the obvious truth that their ministry barely resembles our own. We quickly dismiss the fact that their situation is entirely different than our own. We don’t even pause to consider that what they are doing will never work in our congregation. Now consider what we have subtly and foolishly done. We have traded the goal of pastoral ministry—faithfulness—for a lousy substitute we had long rejected.
3 Things to Remember When You Question Faithfulness
So what do we as pastors do when we begin to question whether our faithfulness is enough? I’m glad you asked!
1. Remember Your Calling
Just as a slump can make a professional baseball player question whether they are cut out for the Big Leagues, a difficult period in ministry can make us question whether or not we are cut out for the pastorate. But when we begin to doubt, we need to turn from our current experiences and to our God who called us. Like Paul writing from jail to the church in Philippi. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). Despite his circumstances, that might tell him otherwise, Paul knew who he belonged to and who had called him to service. If God has called you into ministry, trust that calling and remain faithful.
2. Remember You Are Not Alone
Ministry has a unique way of making us feel as if we are on an island if we are not careful. But the truth is, there is not one single second that we are alone. The Father has called you; the Son has purchased you in His death; the Spirit guides and encourages you in your calling. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working together in and through you for your good and their purposes. Paul connects this truth in his words to the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
3. Remember Your People
God has you in your place of ministry for a purpose. Your congregation does not need another pastor; they need you. So yes, please study the ministries of other pastors, and glean wisdom and ideas from them. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking they have it all together and if you simply copy them, you will be more successful. Faithfulness to your congregation that God has entrusted to you is success.
Faithfulness is Still Enough
Faithfulness is still the goal! Remember that God has called, equipped, and placed you in your ministry for a purpose. Remember that you are not alone in your pursuit of faithfully serving God and your people. And remember your people. Faithfully love your people. Faithfully serve your people. Faithfully shepherd your people. Trust that God will make your faithfulness enough, even during a pandemic.