21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors [REPOST]

[This is article is by Douglas Wilson and originally appeared on "Blog & Mablog." Click HERE for the article in its original context. While I found this post helpful, it is not an endorsement of other posts or all of Wilson's views. He's a bit of a contraversial cat. But nonetheless, this is really good.]

1. The ministry is hard, exacting work.

“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

In 2 Tim. 2:3-6, the apostle Paul compares the work of ministry to three vocations, and all of them involve a goodly amount of sweat — soldiers, athletes, and farmers. The calling of the ministry is not for buttercups, and if buttercups can do it, it isn’t ministry.

2. The ministry is sacrificial work.

“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13).

There are many sacrifices involved, but one of the principal sacrifices is that of reputation. Of course in one sense every pastor needs to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7). Every Christian leader needs to be an honorable man, but if you want to be faithful, there is a certain kind of respectability that you might as well kiss goodbye now.

Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “The more prominent you are in Christ’s service, the more certain are you to be the butt of calumny. I have long ago said farewell to my character. I lost it in the earlier days of my ministry by being a little more zealous than suited a slumbering age. And I have never been able to regain it except in the sight of him who judges all the earth, and in the hearts of those who love me for my work’s sake.”

3. The ministry can be thankless work.

“And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (Luke 17:16–17).

Of course, many ministers receive real gratitude from many of the saints. There are good and godly believers who are most grateful for the ministry that is conducted on their behalf. This is just as it ought to be. They are doing what Scripture requires (1 Tim. 5:17). But there will also be ministry sinkholes, where countless hours go, and where gratitude is rarely in evidence. This is a problem, but it should be their problem, not yours. The ministry is before the Lord, not before man. Let the Lord repay you, let the Lord thank you. Jesus tells us that we should make a point of ministering among those who cannot (or perhaps will not) pay you back. Doing something that elicits gratitude is one kind of blessing. Doing something that elicits no gratitude whatever is another kind of blessing, and in my judgment, it is the greater blessing (Luke 14:12).

4. Events that fulfill these first three maxims are not a sign that something has gone wrong.

When you experience such things, things that every faithful minister of Christ has also experienced, this should be an encouragement to you. You are in the right place. You enlisted in the army. Now you in the front lines and people are shooting at you. This is all part of the point. As my son recently put it, an army might enjoy some tranquil times marching from one battle to another — but the battles are why they are there. The wrong kind of conflict is always to be avoided, but the right kind of conflict is the point.

5. Learn to distinguish weariness from burnout.

“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9).

When you lay out without taking in, the end result will be burnout. When you take in great nourishment from the Lord, but burn every calorie of it in ministry, you will fall into bed exhausted. That is not a problem. That is what you are supposed to do. But this is not the same thing as fritzing out.

6. Keep your heart. Walk with God. Confess your sins.

“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).

The gospel is your life, and not an academic or vocational specialty of yours. Don’t lecture on things that have not been your food. Share bread that you are also eating. Encourage the saints to grow while you are also growing. Among all your parishioners, the most important salvation to mind would be your own. As your justification is fully in evidence, as your sanctification grows and is flourishing, you are doing your congregation fundamental good. As the pastor, you are not the boss of the Christians, but rather the lead Christian. You are not the conductor — Christ is that — so learn to think of yourself as the first violinist, doing what all the violinists are doing.

7. Guard your family, and let your family guard you.

“For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5).

Your central qualifications for ministry are not found in your graduate studies, or in your library, or in the leadership webinars you attend. They are found around the dinner table, in your love for your wife, in kitchen laughter, in your glad sacrifices for your children, and in singing in the car.

8. The Scriptures contain every tool you need for ministry.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

The “man of God” here is the minister, and the “good works” referred to are the good works that any minister might be called upon to do. When something blows up in the congregation, and everything about it seems new to you, the first and foremost question should always be, “What does Scripture teach about this, and how can I find out?” Alternative approaches will not be shy about putting themselves forward, and so you must be eager about finding scriptural instruction.

9. Tools you need but don’t know about are no good to anybody.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

A minister must be a Bible reader. He must read the Bible over and over again. He must be steeped in it. Whenever a problem blows up, if you have the confidence that there is a scriptural principle that addresses it, you should also have the confidence that you have handled the tool you need sometime within recent memory.

10. Don’t try to fix problems in counseling that you never address from the pulpit.

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).

Private instruction, or counseling, is conducted from house to house. You do teach in your pastor’s study, in small group Bible studies, and so on. But what you are doing in those settings is pushing into the corners principles and doctrines that you have already declared from the pulpit. The base coat of your counseling ministry should be what you preach publicly. This — frankly — takes courage. In addition, make sure that you are picking up cues for your preaching from your counseling sessions. If you have three situations of domestic anger, fits of rage, and so on, then there needs to be a sermon series on fits of rage. Preach on the sins that you know are being committed in your congregation, and less on the sins of Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

11. Your flock is in constant danger, and your appointed task is always to be in between them and the danger.

“The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).

The point here is to love your people. Courage is a by-product of the love. If you love them, when the danger comes, you won’t have to think about it.

12. Your flock’s loyalty to you will be a function of your loyalty to them.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, ESV).

Don’t waste your time wondering why there is not more loyalty shown to you. Show them what loyalty looks like. You are the pastor — give yourself to them. Model for them what it looks like to give yourself away. Then urge them to imitate you in it. But if you don’t give yourself away, don’t complain that they are not giving themselves away. Don’t complain that they are not imitating you, because they are in fact imitating you.

13. Never use apologies to mollify others. Apologies should of course be offered when God requires it, but never when someone suggests that a token appeasement might work.

“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

Trimmers, patchers, managers, and and other unreliable friends will not hesitate to tell you to lie, if lying might make a problem disappear. They will not think of it as “a lie,” but what it actually is matters. A lie can never be fixed with another lie, not even a flattering one. Any kind of lie, even a peace-making one, will sap the strength of your ministry. We are to speak the truth in love — but it must be the truth.

14. Recruit and train good men to stand with you.

“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

There are four generations here — Paul’s, Timothy’s, the men he trains, and the men that they train. Christian leadership in the church is in fact corporate, but it isalso personal. This means that the church should be led by a faithful pastor, surrounded and backed up by reliable elders. This is not the same thing as saying that the church should be governed by a committee. We know that the church is not to be effectively governed by a committee because we know that God loves us.

15. Expect betrayals.

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29).

Whenever a work of God begins to advance in the world, the devil first attacks it from outside with persecution. When that doesn’t work, he attacks it from within by means of dissension. God hates those who sow discord among the brethren (Prov. 6:19), but He still uses them nonetheless. It has been my privilege to be able to watch a veritable parade of fools accomplish this kind of great good for the church, over and over again. As a red sky at evening predicts fair weather, so also bitter betrayals are often the prelude to great blessings. Some of the greatest blessings in my life have happened in just this way. What I wouldn’t have wished for anything is now ranked with those things that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Judas helped himself to the Lord’s money. Judas received theSupper from the Lord’s hand. Judas had his feet washed by the Lord Jesus, and then walked with those washed feet to the rulers of the Jews, and from there to Gethsemane. The result of his machinations was the salvation of the world.

16. Expect betrayals without becoming cynical or bitter.

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).

The fact that Paul knew that there would be treachery from within the ranks of the elders at Ephesus did not prevent him from “keeping back nothing.” He put it all out there. This made him vulnerable, but it was not a vulnerability that was caused by naivete. It was an obedient vulnerability. Walk in with both eyes open, but also without flinching. So when you trust someone, and they let you down, this does not provide anyone with a scriptural argument for not trusting anyone else.

17. Repeat yourself. Remind. Go over again. Review.

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1).

The gospel preached rightly is food, not simply information. You don’t ever refuse to have lunch because you already know what a hamburger tastes like. You do in fact know what it tastes like, but that knowledge cannot be chewed and swallowed. Put food on the table for God’s people, and there is no shame in putting the same dish on the table from time to time. The old-timers should love it, and the kids growing up in the church have never had it before. Remind, review, repeat. One of the great sins in Scripture is the sin of forgetting.

18. People sin. If they didn’t sin, they wouldn’t need pastors.

“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).

Every man who can be presented “perfect in Christ” is also a man who needs to be warned. Men who resent being warned are men who have already neglected too many warnings. Caution the people of God. Warn them carefully. Is there ever a time when you can just let this duty slide? Sure. Look at the calendar, and if it is not “today” then you can skip it just this once (Heb. 3:13).

19. Sin doesn’t make sense. If it made sense, it wouldn’t be sin.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

Sin is lawless. Sin rejects sensible boundaries. Sin is therefore incoherent. Sin makes no sense. Do not waste any time trying to figure out the logic of sin. That logic does not exist. Rather, spend your time figuring out how the related lies work.

20. Some of these maxims stand in tension with others.

“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

How do you get a feel for which way to go this time? The way to learn discernment is by constant use. Practice, practice, practice. The way to learn how to apply these maxims in wisdom is to apply them before you have that wisdom. Everyfruitful minister in the history of the world has routinely been in over his head. Trust God and go.

21. Labor for the reward.

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19).

You do not approach your duties as a disinterested party, or as a block of wood, or a bureaucratic functionary. You should labor with the harvest in mind. But never forget that this harvest is made up of people. What is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing? Is it not you?

And when you have done all, and you stand before your Master — cut, bleeding, grimy, sweating, and breathing hard — you will say that you are an unworthy servant, and only did as you were instructed (Luke 17:10). If that.

And He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).

Enter into joy.