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What I Wasn’t Ready for in Pastoral Ministry

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Editors’ note: 

TGC and Baker Books recently released a new book, 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry, containing inspiring stories of 12 faithful pastors who endured great suffering for the cause of Christ. Biographical sketches cover well-known figures such as John Calvin and John Newton as well as lesser-knows heroes such as Janani Luwum and John Chavis. Order your copy today!

Young pastors today are often cool, impressive, and popular. But the pastoral ministry that has borne eternal fruit down through the centuries has been something deeper, grander and more resilient. The apostle Paul expressed it when he wrote, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col. 1:24).

Paul was not cool. He had something better. Into his pastoral ministry flowed two divine powers: suffering and rejoicing.

It’s not enough that we pastors today suffer as Paul did. We must suffer without self-pity, resentment, and murmuring, but with rejoicing. Then we advance the gospel. How could it be otherwise? We represent the One who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross (Heb. 12:2).

As a young pastor, I entered the ministry prepared for the rejoicing but not for the suffering. When the inevitable buffetings and sorrows came, especially in the form of rejection, I thought, I don’t deserve this. Maybe you’ve thought that, too. And while it is a valid thought, it is not profound.

As the Lord led me further along, the following verses, like so many throughout Scripture, became more meaningful to me:

I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. (Luke 10:3)

Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. (John 16:2)

I have been crucified with Christ. (Gal. 2:20)

Do not be surprised at the fiery trial. (1 Pet. 4:12)

I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col. 1:24).

The Lord did not recruit us pastors on false pretenses. He told us what to expect. We will suffer, for his sake. But for that very reason, because it is for him, our sufferings are a grace, a privilege, an honor he is giving us. We are following him down a path already stained with his priceless blood. When we realize this, a second thought breaks upon us: I really don’t deserve this. And that is profound, and it leads to profound rejoicing.

As a young pastor, I entered the ministry prepared for the rejoicing but not for the suffering.

The privilege of pastoral ministry is Jesus—serving Jesus, standing for Jesus, representing Jesus, laying down our lives for Jesus, and through it all knowing Jesus more deeply. As my dad, the best pastor I’ve ever seen, told me on his dying day, “Ministry isn’t everything. Jesus is.”

In 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry (Baker), Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson have gathered together godly pastors from the past to tell us stories—true stories—of pastoral suffering, with rejoicing that bears fruit to last forever. We pastors of today can never say the Lord is asking too much of us. The pastors we read of in this new book proved that Jesus is worth it all, even to our hearts’ full rejoicing forever.

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