When talking to folks about being a pastor I am often asked what is the hardest thing about pastoral ministry. Speaking for myself, there's not one top frustration, two are tied for first. Being totally honest, here they are:
1. My own sin and weakness. I rarely doubt God has called me to be a pastor- to preach, teach, encourage, love, and correct (shepherd) God's people. I am not confident in my pastoral calling based on a hunch or a sense of my abilities, but rather by the confirmation of others and an inward conviction (hopefully based on God's Word and prompted by His Spirit). Despite a pretty solid sense of calling, I struggle greatly with my inadequacies, sinfulness, and ineffectiveness. I have many days where I feel unworthy to hold the office and carry out the sacred tasks given to me and my fellow elders. I preach God's Word and exhort the brethren about the commands of God (always against the backdrop of His sovereign grace), yet I am loathe to obey the commands myself on many days (OK, even my best "obeying days" are pretty sorry). My weaknesses are ever before me (some well-meaning sheep make sure of this) and such is part of my greatest pastoral frustration. To some degree I tie the spiritual health and maturity of "my" people to my own. Contemplating that connection can often bring depression. When I see the stubbornness of God's people, I cannot escape my part in their condition. I am, after all, an under shepherd given a level of watch care over them. I snap out of total guilt for reasonable spells of time knowing that God is using far more than just me to sanctify His people, but my sin is pervasive, even to the point of thinking myself to be more influential and important than I am. My battle with sin and weakness is the primary player in a two-dimensional top pastoral frustration I encounter. I doubt it will ever be different for me in this un-glorified life. My only comfort concerning my sin is Christ (and He is indeed comfort enough!). It further helps confessing sin and allowing others to hold me accountable lest I become disqualified in some way. Being a sinner, even a redeemed one, is a whopping frustration for a guy who's supposed to be pastoring people. I am compelled to preach Christ and Him crucified because I know of my bankruptcy.
2. The stubborn rebelliousness of God's People. The second dimension of the top pastoral frustration is the way God's people ignore God's Word even when it's clearly preached to them. I understand such rebelliousness (see #1), but it's nevertheless painful to watch the people of God ignore or outright disobey the preaching, teaching, and counsel I give them and walk headlong in to pain and misery because of it. I can't count how many times I have warned a dear brother or sister about this or that only to sense or hear explicitly they did not intend to heed my advice. In private situations I have opened the bible and read a passage or two with a professing believer and even gained their agreement on what God has said, only to hear them weave an excuse or explanation about how they will do what they want anyways. In frustration I have said to people, "Why are you coming to me if you know what I will say but plan to do what you want regardless"? I know, someone reading this might say (and trust me, I have thought it many times)- "They must not be Christians." Well, think about that. You do the same thing often. So do I. How many times have you thought just before lying or gossiping or lusting or whatever sin you committed- "I know I shouldn't do this, God doesn't want me to do this, this will turn out bad" but did it anyway? It's frustrating taking hours to prepare sermons, lessons, and biblical counsel-not to mention the constant preoccupation thinking about the manifold issues in the lives of the sheep- only to have it ignored or dismissed. Very honestly, there are many days I wonder if anyone listens to anything I have said to them. I am not ministering under the duress of the biblical prophets, but I do understand their lamentations when they cry out to the people of God to repent only to realize from the ashes that very few are actually listening. Which of the prophets ever really witnessed any kind of whole scale repentance? Is that what God has for my pastoral ministry- to be a prophet without honor? I sometimes feel like Willie Wonka in the first version of the movie (with Gene Wilder). With each disobedient kid that doesn't listen to his urgent warnings, he gets more and more apathetic about warning the next one. I have to guard against thinking my counsel will be automatically ignored lest I get like Willie, who by the time Mike T.V. ignored him and got shrunk, he had no zeal to give any more watch care.
So, the top frustration as a pastor? There are two side by side- my sin and the stubborn rebellion of God's people.
Tony- That's it? You're going to end with this?
No. More to come later. Remember what I said- Christ is comfort enough!