“Some pastors, mightily endowed by God, are remarkable gifts to the church,” writes D.A. Carson. “They love their people, they handle Scripture well, they see many conversions, their ministries span generations, they understand their culture yet refuse to be domesticated by it, they are theologically robust and personally disciplined.”
We know those people. We admire them for it. We want to be like them.
But most of us aren’t like that, Carson writes:
Most of us … serve in more modest patches. Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies and preaching. Some will work with so little support that they will prepare their own bulletins. They cannot possibly discern whether the constraints of their own sphere of service owe more to the specific challenges of the local situation or to their own shortcomings.
Most of us look at “successful” pastors and feel “on the one hand, gratitude and encouragement and, on the other, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt.”
I’m convinced that most pastors live in this reality. We started with high hopes. We’ve read the biographies of great pastors and missionaries. We look around and see God using others powerfully. We also see our own failures and the ordinariness of our ministry, especially in the age of podcasts and social media, and we’re tempted to despair.
If you feel like that, please remember three things.
First, you’re not alone. Notice what Carson wrote: “Most of us … serve in more modest patches.” Most churches are small. Most growth is incremental. Most service to God goes uncelebrated and overlooked, at least in this world. Normalize normal in ministry.
I think every pastor ought to have books like Carson’s Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor and Zack Eswine’s Imperfect Pastor within easy reach. We need to reread these books and allow them to shape our vision for pastoral life. Most of us will never be a big deal, and that’s okay. We weren’t meant to be.
Second, your ministry may be small, but it’s a gift. I thought of this when I read this tweet:
Those few people we’re called to serve? They’re of immeasurable value. They’re part of “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). What a privilege that we get to serve them.
Third, you’re probably not aware of how God is using you. I forget who said it, but sometimes God gives us just enough encouragement to keep going.
A friend recently left the church he pastored. As a parting gift, the church gave him a leather-bound journal full of notes from the congregation. Most pastors wonder if God is really using them, he said. The journal was an encouraging reminder that God uses foolish jars of clay like us.
Be okay with your smallness. You’re in good company. After all, your ministry is a gift. God will continue to give you just the encouragement you need to keep going. One day in eternity, you may discover that God used you far more than you realized.