I know some pastors of large churches. I know pastors of small ones. I know people who pastor healthy and unhealthy congregations, urban, suburban, and rural ones. I know people who serve in churches in the Bible Belt and others who serve where Christianity is scorned.
None of the factors makes your ministry significant.
They may make your ministry more prominent or obscure. Some are easier than others, although I suspect none of them could realistically be called easy. Each ministry will face different joys and temptations. But all have one thing in common: they are significant for one primary reason only.
They are significant because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At the end of a glorious chapter on the resurrection, Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
It always strikes me as an odd conclusion to a chapter on the importance of the resurrection. I can think of many other implications that Paul could have used as the capstone for his reflection on why the resurrection matters. But Paul finishes this chapter by making a simple argument: your ministry matters because of the resurrection.
The resurrection is the proof that what you preach is true and that it changes everything.
The resurrection gives meaning and hope to the Christian’s life. Your life and your ministry are going somewhere, even when it doesn’t look like it.
The resurrection transforms work that would otherwise be burdensome into work that’s a joy because of where it’s headed.
The resurrection means that our work will ultimately be rewarded, even if it’s overlooked now.
The resurrection connects our present, gritty work with our future eternal life, even though it seems far away.
The resurrection means that our work today, which seems fleeting and forgotten, is producing enduring results.
The resurrection means that your work, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may appear, isn’t futile.
The resurrection means that all kinds of ministry — paid and unpaid, vocational or lay, private or public — count, not just now but for eternity.
The resurrection means that a better life is coming, which makes even the hardest ministry a temporary condition.
Paul applies this truth to those who are still in the middle of the chaos of life and ministry: stay at it. Don’t let the difficulties move you. Give it your all. Don’t dabble. Invest everything you’ve got because, in the end, none of what you’re doing for the Lord will be wasted.
I suspect that if we could look back from the perspective of eternity, we wouldn’t look so much at the difficulties. We’d see the value of even small acts of service and devotion to the Lord. We would see how God takes all of our small acts of service and turns them into something that matters for eternity. We’d also see that some of what looks big here actually seems small in the context of eternity, and that many seemingly small things matter a lot more than we think.
Paul encourages us to look from that perspective now. Your ministry matters more than you can imagine because of the resurrection. Keep going. None of it is vain because Jesus rose from the dead.