“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, overseeing not under compulsion, but willingly, according to God; and not for dishonest gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to you, but being examples to the flock.
On September 13, 2021, I sent an email to a group of pastor friends. It was a long email, but here is an excerpt to give you its gist:
“Yesterday was just tense and tough and I guess I have a case of the Monday blues. For about a month my wife and I have been discussing and praying about what to do. We have been here in our hometown for nearly 5.5 years. We love our community. But at this point, we are seriously pondering the Lord’s direction. Is He moving us? Do we need to stay? We don’t know really right now. But as I was praying last night I had the idea to email you brothers and ask you to pray.”
I was experiencing a low point in ministry and had come to a place where I felt that my efforts toward building a healthy and Biblical church in my hometown were not bearing fruit. I even sent out my resume. I had a couple of serious conversations with other churches about the possibility of uprooting my family and moving on.
Praise God, nothing materialized out of those ventures. And really, even though my family and I still felt the pain and frustration of our church not being where we hoped it would be after five-plus years of discipling, we became more and more resolved that this church was where the Lord had called me to pastor.
My intention in sharing this story with you today is to offer encouragement to pastors who may be going through something similar to what I experienced two years ago. I want you to know there is hope, and I would like to bolster you by sharing some things I’ve learned along the way on my own pastoring journey. I also want to encourage church members to read this post so that you might have clearer insight into pastoral ministry and be a help to your pastor(s) as he oversees the flock (1 Peter 5:1-11).
The biggest piece of advice I can give to struggling pastors is to stick it out. Now, for those who have moved on, it is not my goal to shame you. There are many legitimate reasons for pastors to leave a church. I get it. It happens. It has happened to me in previous places.
But, if I may, I’d like to encourage you to look ten years down the road. What good things might God do in your local church if you were to stay? I have found that serious healthiness in local churches never comes without some sort of crisis point.
That point may be minor or major. But we pastors must be able to weather the storm past the crisis point in order to see God bring something beautiful out of something difficult. Be resolved to stay. So many churches have seen men come in, and at the first serious sign of trouble, they leave. What would happen if you decided to stay and truly pastor, not merely in title but in the hearts of your people?
I don’t mean to imply it will be easy. It won’t. It’s likely that tears will be shed. Hearts will hurt. Tough decisions will have to be made. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone. But the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of a healthy church in your area, and if you won’t lead in that, who will? And it just may be that God will bless you mightily if you can press on a little while longer!
Staying where you are despite a difficult pastoral situation is hard. But it’s even harder with concrete and unwavering convictions. Your biggest resolve of all must be an aim to please Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9). Let everything else fall where it may.
Have Biblical convictions about Christ’s vision for the church and stand on them. Be patient with people. Be humble. You didn’t arrive at your convictions overnight. Help others to see what the Scriptures teach. But ultimately, stand for the truth and seek to honor Christ, and may it always be Biblical convictions that cause conflict. Not your arrogance, or mistakes, or sins. Own those things. Repent of those things―but never apologize for Biblical convictions.
One of the most tremendous acts of service a pastor can undertake is to love your people. Keep feeding them the Scriptures. Keep praying for them. Keep visiting them. Let all your labor be a labor of love (1 Corinthians 16:14). In one sense, you should have the Martin Luther mentality of “Here I stand!” Yet, in another very important sense, you must not see yourself as Martin Luther, fighting a battle that people will be writing about 500 years from now.
Don’t make this about you. It’s about Christ. And it is about His loving His sheep enough to set you as a shepherd over them to love them well. Be patient with them and care for their souls.
Finally, my last encouragement to you is to seek God. You are not enough. You cannot do this on your own. Satan is ready to destroy you, your church, your family, and everything else good around you. But you have a great and awesome God who is for His people in Christ. Find your strength in Him (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Lead your people to seek God. So much fighting happens in local churches because too many professing Christians simply don’t know the God they proclaim to know. Show your people the glory and wonder of The Triune God.
I’d also like to encourage you to “seek” in two additional ways. First, seek godly counsel. Reach out to other pastor friends. In an abundance of counselors there is safety! (Proverbs 11:14).
Secondly, while you are personally seeking God in prayer, Scripture reading, in counsel with other pastors, and while you are leading your church to seek God in Christ, do not forget to seek the lost. Evangelize! Lead your congregation to engage in evangelism. Model what it means to take the Gospel to the streets. Some conflicts can be overcome simply by seeing God save sinners in the midst of your community! Do not let church conflict distract you from the very reason God has you placed right where you are: to reach those in your city who are His (Acts 18:10).
Ministry is hard. Pastoring is hard. Church life can be difficult. But, dear brother, you are not alone. Do not give up. God is for you in Christ. Others have been in similar places as you. This does not have to be the end. Will you be resolved to stay, stand, serve, and seek? All to the glory of Christ!
For further reading
Allen S. Nelson IV
Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 6 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation Works, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness, and A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. He is an M.Div graduate of Grace BIble Theological Seminary in Conway, AR.
October 4, 2023
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