Perseverance in Pastoral Ministry
It’s common wisdom among pastors that no important decision should be made on a Monday. Especially a Monday morning. The nature of pastoral work causes the Lord’s Day to be a day that typically requires a great expenditure of physical, emotional and spiritual energy for a man who gives himself to regular pastoral preaching. Standing before a church that is gathered together with unbelievers, knowing that they expect and need to hear the Word of God accurately and helpfully proclaimed is a weighty responsibility. Preaching is spiritual warfare and it is a rare Lord’s Day that I do not go home painfully aware of the attacks of our enemy that have come before, during and after my efforts in preaching. I suspect that most preachers know something of what I am talking about.
The result is that most pastors are not at their fighting best on Mondays. I have probably resigned my pastorate a hundred times in my mind…on Mondays. Fortunately, it only takes a little experience to recognize this pattern and to guard against putting too much stock in Monday-morning contemplations of life-decisions.
But trying to decide whether to stay or to leave at other times can be just as emotionally and spiritually taxing on a pastor–especially during times of conflict in the church. When the conflict in any way centers on him, the trial is compounded all-the-more. It is not unusual from time-to-time for there to be people in the church who want the pastor to leave. Perhaps as a result of a difference of opinion or a doctrinal disagreement, although too often the reasons are not nearly that noble.
While no one can authoritatively say that it is never right for a pastor to leave a church as a result of opposition, my own opinion is that too many pastors tend to leave too quickly when tensions arise in among the congregation. I understand the temptation and even the rationale that often enters into the pastor’s thinking. “I don’t want the church to be split.” “I don’t want to be the cause of such fighting.” “If I leave, then fewer people will be hurt.” These and other motives can be humble and testimony to great love for the people.
However, if the issues at stake are not moral or doctrinal—that is, if the pastor is not guilty of violating his pastoral vows—then the fact that the Lord called him to serve the church for that particular time should also weigh heavily on any decision that he might take. In fact, I believe that it is extremely valuable, if not essential, for a pastor to accept a call to serve a church with a willingness and desire to spend his life in that place. This is not to say that the Lord will never move him to another place, but such an attitude will always put the burden of proof on the move. And controversy in and of itself, is rarely a sufficient reason for a pastor to move on.
When Paul told to the Corinthians that he was planning to stay in Ephesus a while, he explained it like this: “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9). He gave them two reasons. He had a wide open door for ministry there. And he had many adversaries there. It seems that Paul was of the mind that God’s ministers should be willing to “ride toward the sound of the guns.”
Again, I do not want to suggest that a man should never leave his church nor that he should never leave during times of controversy. But the burden of proof should be on side that says, “go.”
I love the spirit that Charles Spurgeon had about this in his own life and ministry. He once expressed his intentions stay to his church during a worship service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
I do not think that anything but death would get me to go away from this spot. I hardly agree with ministers, when they get beaten, showing the white feather, and resigning their charge. I feel that I am captain of a vessel; and if there should be a Jonah in the ship, I shall, as gently and in as Christian a spirit as possible, pitch him out; I shall not think, because Jonah is there, that therefore I ought to leave, but I will stand by the ship in ill weather as well as in sunshine.
I love his pastoral resolve. No doubt it comforted the church as much as it troubled the would-be “Jonahs” among the congregation. Such determination is essential for persevering in pastoral ministry. And often it is only by persevering through severe trials that divine blessings come to rest on a pastor’s labors.