Merry Christmas, pastor.

I know you are getting ready for a busy day. If you’re like me, you’re just coming off a full Sunday and still need to finish your Christmas Eve sermon before the sun goes down and the candles get lit. I’m sure you’ve had a full week, a full month, and a full year. I hope you get some time off in the next week.

I also know that as you think back on another year—and already have to be cranked up for the new one—it’s tempting to wonder if your ministry is making any difference. I know the temptation well. It doesn’t matter the size of your church, the length of your ministry, or the number of followers on social media, almost every pastor has weeks (months? seasons? years?) where he questions the effectiveness of his preaching, his praying, his leading, and just about everything else he’s poured his heart and soul into.

Don’t lose heart.

I just finished the grading for my pastoral ministry class. The final assignment was to write a paper on two pastors whose examples they want to emulate and whose priorities have shaped their own. The catch: one of the pastors must already be in glory, and one must still be alive.

On the dead side, the students wrote about the men you’d expect RTS students to write about. I’ve read papers on Athanasius, Baxter, Bonhoeffer, Bucer, Calvin, Chrysostom, Edwards, Lloyd-Jones, Luther, and Spurgeon (among others). We have much to learn from all these men and many reasons to thank God for them.

I’ve also read papers on Rob and Josh and Tom and David and Ben and Jerry and Mike—men you may never have heard of and may never know. And yet, my students know them, because these have been their pastors—some fathers, some grandfathers, some campus workers, some youth pastors, some associate pastors, but all pastors making a difference in the lives of their people. The students see they way the lead, they see their humility, they see their hospital visits, they see their suffering, they see their labors in the study, and yes, they see their weaknesses and imperfections too. These pastors have shown my students how to live and love in light of God’s Word. Above all, they have shown their people Christ.

And I’m the beneficiary, by having them in my class. And future (or current) congregations and future (or current spouses and children) are the beneficiaries too. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the present of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2). This has been happening for 2,000 years. It’s happening in the world right now. Be encouraged, brother pastor, it’s almost certainly happening in your ministry.

The fruit can be hard to see at times, and “you’re making a difference in my life” may not be verbalized as often as we would like. Most weeks it’s more of the same. Another meeting, another prayer, another email, another visit, another sermon. In God’s grace, however, all the “anothers” add up to something. Usually more than we know. No matter who hears about it. Or whether we can even see it.

Keep fighting the good fight, reverend. Keep your hand to the plow. Keep sowing that seed. Don’t lose heart.

And Merry Christmas.