One of the greatest joys I have every day is waking up knowing that the work the Lord has given me is unending. I will never for the rest of my life run out of work to do. That is a joy knowing that but it is also overwhelming. The other day a friend of mine and I were chatting about how ministry is overwhelming. While I’m not a Pastor, I am in training to become one, and minister in a wide variety of ministries inside and outside the local church, and often feel overwhelmed by all the ministry work I have to do. During the course of our conversation, we rightly noted that feeling overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing in fact it’s for our good that we do feel overwhelmed since it causes us to lean more upon Christ.
Ministry is a tough and light burden. Tough because ministering to people like ourselves who experience the effects of the Fall is hard work. Light because Christ carries our burdens but doesn’t remove the weight or heaviness of them. The weight is part of sanctification. God uses our ordinary circumstances as a hammer/anvil to conform His people into the image of Christ.
Jesus Himself experienced this heaviness in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Apostle Paul experienced this in the course of his ministry. Every faithful servant of God ought to feel every day that they are completely inadequate for the ministry. Such an attitude is not against the gospel but accurately reflects the heart of God in the work of the gospel ministry. Such an attitude also runs counter to current trends in ministry. In seminary, they focus in pastoral ministry classes on teaching you all about church administration and other relates topics to pastoral ministry. While this is great and needed, what’s even better is hands on training. Now I’m not against seminary here. This post is not a rant against seminaries. I am for going to seminary. I spent five years there and learned a ton. Yet, seminary should always be in the service not of academic accomplishments but in advancing the Kingdom of God and the work of the local church.
As my readers know, I read a lot. I believe reading is central to being in ministry. Reading godly books isn’t to take us away from regular Bible reading. Instead, regular Bible reading should lead us to want to read godly books. This is why Paul in his pastoral letters told his colaborers to bring his books and his cloak. Paul knew that part of being in ministry is regularly digesting godly material. Self-feeding is one of the best ways to be sustained in ministry. Ministry is hard work. Dealing with people’s issues on a regular basis is a privilege but it is also very taxing. It’s taxing on one’s emotions and on one’s spiritual life. It’s also taxing on one’s body. This is why ministry is a heavy burden. This is also why we need to understand that ministry is a light burden because of Christ who carries our burdens.
Each one of us is replaceable. This is good news that you’re replaceable. Yes as a pastor and a ministry leader you have a significant ministry in the local church and in the Body of Christ. But remember God spoke through a donkey. Remember God took King David out of the shepherd’s fields and made him King of Israel. Your ministry is significant, but Christ is preeminent and supreme. The supremacy of Christ ought to fill your thoughts each and every day; especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the work of the Lord. And as it does, you are beginning to understand what it means to truly serve the Lord not in your own strength but in the Lord’s strength.
In seminary, we’re taught a great deal about doctrine and theology. All of this is great. What is missing from seminary in my view is an emphasis on being okay with and embracing your weakness. We need to hear is that it is okay to be broken. It’s okay to admit our limitations. For many of us this is freeing. We need to hear that we’re only human, not superhumans going around ministering to people in our own strength. For some of us, we need to come to an end of ourselves. We need to hear that we’re replaceable. If we don’t then we run the risk of ministering in our own power, or worse, we run the risk of becoming burned out.
Part of the problem with the present training of future pastors is the emphasis on knowledge. You go to seminary because you want to gain more information and knowledge about the Bible. Now all of that biblical and theological knowledge is great. I have three degrees in theology including two Masters degrees. I greatly enjoyed my time in seminary and learned a ton. Through it I’ve had a lot of opportunities open up. With that said if I had to do it all over again, I would have done it very differently. I would have not gone via distance education to seminary. I would have gone to a seminary campus. There I could ask questions and learn from godly seasoned men. I was plugged into a church, but I believe men need to be on campus to be able to glean from their teachers and to be active in a local church preferably a small one while going to seminary.
Seminary students need to learn that the information dump they are getting in a seminary is so they can minister to real people who have real struggles. The struggle of seminary is the information dump. We gain so much information in such a short time that it can short circuit our spiritual growth. In fact, it can make us think we’re so “intellectual” that we don’t need help. Such a view is short-sighted. I can say with full authority that this is the case because I am describing myself and many others who have gone through seminary. In my experience, it took me almost three years to get out of this mindset. And when I say three years I’m talking about the last three years of my life post-seminary. I was so focused on academic knowledge in seminary; while at the same time writing and speaking that I missed the point. Also, I didn’t realize this until fairly recently but I’ve seen this mindset in the lives of others who have gone to seminary.
What does all of this have to do with ministry being tough and a light burden? Everything. At all times, Christ is present with us. He is drawing near to us at all times. After all, He walks alongside us and also goes before us. He bids us to come to His throne to find mercy and help in time of need. He invites us to come to Him who was tempted in every way and did not sin when we are tempted to despair and fall into sin. To admit that ministry is tough is to acknowledge that Christ is sufficient to meet your need. To admit that Christ is enough is to be satisfied in Him.
Christ is enough for us who are serving in His vineyard. The laborers are few and the work is hard. It’s hard because of the Fall. It takes hard gospel work to see fruit in people’s lives. In fact in order to see fruit, God has to do the work. Even then we may not see it as God sees it. We also may not even see it at all. Yet in the midst of all of this is Christ. His invitation still stands to come to Him, all you who are heavy laden and find rest in Christ. Not only rest but also holiness. Christ is our rest and our holiness. So go to Him who bids you come. There you’ll grow in Him who’s called you, and from there you’ll be able to rest in Him, and strive for holiness in Christ alone without which no one will see the Lord.