Ministry is Tough But So Rewarding – Paul Beasley-Murray
Ministry can be tough. Most pastors go through at least one bad experience in ministry – and sadly many fall out of ministry. I have just returned from Australia, where there are as many ex-pastors as there are pastors.
But has ministry not always been tough? In my funeral instructions I have suggested that the text for the address be taken from 2 Cor 4.7: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this-all surpassing power is from God and not from us”. The fragility of the clay lamps represents the frailty and weakness of those of us who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in turn our frailty and weakness make a striking contrast with “the all-surpassing power” of God. Paul here reminds us that God’s power in ministry is often displayed in trouble, in adversity, and difficulty. Paul knew what it was like to be “hard pressed”, “perplexed”, “persecuted” and “struck down” (2 Cor 4.8-9). Yet Paul was never ‘out for the count’ – he always managed to get to his feet again, because of the working of God’s resurrection power in his life. As he went on to make clear, it was precisely in “weakness that Christ’s resurrection ‘power” was “made perfect” (2 Cor 12.9). Paul’s experience of ministry surely provides inspiration for those tough times of ministry.
Why is ministry so tough? Because ministry is about people – and people inevitably bring with them problems. “Pastoral work”, wrote Eugene Peterson in Under the Unpredictable Plant, “is like farm work. Most pastoral work involves routines similar to cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds. This is not, any of it, bad work in itself, but if we expected to ride a glistening black stallion in daily parades, and then return to the barn where a lackey groom our steed for us, we will be severely disappointed and end up being horribly resentful.”
Yet ministry is also an amazing privilege. As Thomas Currie, wrote in his introduction to his aptly entitled book, The Joy of Ministry, “The gift [of ministry] and the task of pointing to Jesus Christ…. is literally filled with wonder, which is not to say that it is filled with exhilaration and euphoria, but that its sheer existence is an ongoing miracle whose grace is both relentlessly embarrassing and surprisingly joyful”. I too write as somebody who has not just survived ministry, but thrived in ministry. Ministry for me has been immensely rewarding. There has almost never been a day when I have not thanked God for the amazing privilege of being called to serve him in his church. There have been tough times, but the good times have far outweighed any difficulties I have encountered. I have been surrounded by people who have loved me, encouraged me, supported me, and time again have been patient with me. I have been undeservedly blessed – and for that I am so grateful.
Read Paul’s ‘magnum opus’, Living Out the Call: