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3 Ways to Keep Going, Going, Going in Ministry

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This summer marked my 15th anniversary as a pastor’s wife. And nearly every Sunday for the past 15 years I have gotten a migraine headache.

It typically sets in sometime between the closing benediction and the moment I set the dining-room table for a houseful of lunch guests. Thankfully, with judicious applications of caffeine and prescription medication, I’m usually able forestall the worst of the pain. But the lingering dull ache and foggy brain function mark my Sunday afternoons just as regularly as roast and potatoes.

It’s not that the two churches my husband has pastored have been especially difficult. I love the people in my church, and I count it one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve them. They, in turn, have loved me well—and more than a few members pray weekly that I would have a headache-free Lord’s Day.

But life in ministry, just like any other calling from the Lord, is never easy. Because I love the people of my church, I want to share their sorrows, hear their concerns, pray for their needs, and serve them well. All of these things bring stress. And stress—for me—means migraines.

Paul’s Ministry Woes

The apostle Paul knew something about the challenges of ministry life, too. He worked tirelessly for the good of Christ’s church: planting churches throughout the known world and continuing to shepherd them by letter for years. He preached whenever he had opportunity and prayed for the various congregations “night and day” (1 Thess. 3:10). And he did all this while working to support himself financially (2 Thess. 3:8). Even in prison, he maintained an effective ministry.

And in ministry, Paul met with great resistance. In 2 Corinthians 11 he chronicles some of the troubles that multiplied in his life because of his work for the church: beatings, stoning, shipwreck, dangerous travel, threats on his life, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, homelessness, and anxiety (vv. 24–28). Though most of us in the West haven’t faced such extreme difficulties, ministry—wherever it happens—comes with heavy burdens.

And those dangers weren’t the worst of Paul’s trials. In addition to attacks from outside the church, Paul was often mistreated by people in the church. He was viewed skeptically by church leaders (Acts 9:26), suffered personal attacks from false teachers and their disciples (2 Cor. 10:10), and was deliberately misunderstood by other Christians (2 Pet. 3:16). He disagreed with some Christians (Acts 15:36–40) and was disappointed by others (2 Cor. 11:22–29).

Paul sat alone in prison, longing for others to come alongside him but realizing “they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). And—in what may be the saddest verse in all of Paul’s letters—he writes, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16).

And yet, Paul kept going. When many of us would have been tempted to leave the church, to quit the ministry, to find some other, safer calling, Paul kept on preaching and pastoring and loving Christ’s bride.

How did he persevere?

Like the rest of us, he depended on the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10), the help of his Spirit, and the prayers of his people (Phil. 1:19). Without these, Paul would certainly have given up.

But his perseverance in ministry also had practical, tangible dimensions. And in weeks when ministry life feels overwhelming, I often turn to some of his last recorded words: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). This single, unassuming sentence reminds me that Paul had practical needs—and I do too.

To keep going in ministry, we need three practical things.

1. Friends

The verse begins with poignant words: “When you come.” Paul, the mighty apostle and missionary, needed friends. This man had boldly done more for the cause of Christ among Gentiles than anyone else, and yet he never saw himself as a lone hero. Repeatedly in earlier letters he refers to other Christians as beloved brothers and sisters and fellow workers. And now—imprisoned, unjustly accused, facing death, and largely forgotten—Paul needed friends more than ever before. “Do your best to come to me soon,” he implored Timothy a few verses earlier (2 Tim. 4:9). In the trials of ministry life, friends are not optional. They are essential.

In the trials of ministry life, friends are not optional. They are essential.

And if this was true for the apostle Paul, it’s certainly true for pastors and elders and their wives today. We need people to pray with and for us, to weep and rejoice with us, and to share the grace of life—laughter, meals, sunshine, and road trips. Whether we pursue friends in our own congregation, in our community, or among the leaders of other churches, we can’t expect to keep going without them.

2. Spiritual Refreshment

Second Timothy 4:13 also records Paul’s directive to Timothy: bring “the books, and above all the parchments.” While we don’t know exactly what these books and parchments were—they may have been Scripture commentaries, Old Testament Scriptures, or even Scripture that Paul was in the process of writing—his request testifies to the high value he placed on Bible study. Alone in prison and nearing death, Paul knew that meditating on the living Word of God would refresh his soul.

How often people in ministry are tempted to think that what we really need is “a break” from the spiritual things that fill our days! How often we’d rather relax with Netflix than with a commentary, or refresh ourselves with social media rather than diligent Scripture memory. And yet, as Paul shows us, even apostles can’t have too much of the Word of God. Knowing and loving the Scriptures through personal daily study and prayer will enable us to care for people in our churches and will be much-needed spiritual refreshment for our own souls, too.

3. Bodily Well-Being

Perhaps the most unexpected phrase in this verse comes in the middle: “bring the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas.” The great apostle was chilly, and he wanted his favorite sweater. And that was okay. For the sake of the gospel, Paul elsewhere declared himself willing to face “cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:27), so we know his desire for his cloak wasn’t the demand of a diva. Instead, it was a prudent, practical measure to care for his earthly body as long as he lived. In obedience to the sixth commandment, Paul protected his own bodily well-being as far as it depended on him.

In the same way, pastors’ and elders’ wives should take steps to foster their own physical, emotional, and mental health. We shouldn’t feel guilty for going to the gym, eating what our bodies need to flourish, sleeping eight hours a night, taking a day off, going for a walk, reading a good book, watching a film, or listening to a favorite album. If you left your cloak in Troas, ask someone to mail it to you.

For my part, I’m sure the 16th year of ministry will be just as stressful as the 15 that came before it. There’s not much I can do about that. But I can do better at taking practical steps to keep going—and I think the apostle Paul would approve.

Editors’ note: 

Megan Hill will be leading a panel on “Encouragement for Pastors’ and Elders’ Wives” at our 2020 Women’s Conference, June 11 to 13 in Indianapolis. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakers. Register soon!

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