One of the problems with Christian ministry is that everyone is incompetent. Nobody – pastor, elder, teacher, leader – can transform a life, never mind transform a whole community of people.
I was thinking of this as I read D.A. Carson’s account of his father’s life, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. Carson writes, “So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them.” It’s easy to see why many pastors struggle with feelings of inadequacy.
Carson’s father struggled with a perfectionistic streak. He struggled with “self-doubt, guilty conscience, sense of failure…and growing frustration with apparent fruitlessness.” I found it sobering to read this part of the book. “There is no hint in his journals of the proper place of rest, of pacing himself, of Jesus’ words, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”
Reflecting on this, and some of the same of the inadequacy he senses in his own life, D.A. Carson writes:
There are gospel ways of tackling this problem more hopefully…I cannot allow [discouragement] to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merit’s of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace. Dad’s diaries show he understood this truth in theory, and sometimes he exulted in hit…but quite frankly, his sense of failure sometimes blinded him to the glory of gospel freedom.
Profound words, and good ones for us to read whenever we feel discouraged by our own performance.