When I was in seminary, I got to know lots of people who eventually became pastors. Now I know lots of pastors, and through the years I have been able to share in some of their joys and pains whenever we meet for lunch, talk on the phone, or email each other. Sometimes as I hear their stories, I wished that others—the people in their churches—knew both the struggles and the joys of ministry so that they might better support their pastor, pray for their pastor, or even, like Priscilla and Aquila in the book of Acts take them aside and explain to them the “way of God more accurately” when they get off track, as we all do from time to time (Acts 18:26).
Recently I received this email: “What would you say to a new pastor who is frustrated after not seeing the fruit of his work in the congregation? Most of the people do not seem passionate about their faith. The pastor’s own passion is also low right now.” Here is what I said.
This is a challenging situation for any pastor to be in. But if anyone understood this challenge it was the apostle Paul who was constantly dealing with troubled churches that were straying from the gospel and failing in major ways. Consider his words to the Galatians, a church that he was concerned was abandoning the gospel for a false gospel, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). He could say this not because he believed in his own ability to accomplish great things, but because he knew that it was the Holy Spirit’s mission to bring forth the fruit of salvation in the lives of God’s people.
He wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22–24). As he argues throughout the entire book of Galatians, the Spirit’s work does not come about through human effort, it doesn’t depend upon our ability to keep God’s law, it is a work of grace. God has promised to work and he will work through the ordinary work of the church, teaching, baptism, the Lord’s supper, prayer, and fellowship.
This is why, pastors who don’t see the fruit of their labors should not give up. They shouldn’t look at the situation before them and draw premature conclusions. It’s easy to think that people aren’t passionate about their faith or that in finding an actual lack of passion that one should give up. But God likes to raise the dead, and surely, he can work in us to create a passion for his glory, renew our passion, and work even when we lack all desire and passion for his glory.
I received a follow-up email that seemed encouraged and renewed for the challenges of pastoral ministry. I share this because so many pastors struggle with their ministry. Your pastor needs your encouragement, your prayers, and—even sometimes—your instruction or rebuke. Pastors, like the rest of us, are blessed to be part of a loving community of believers who challenge and inspire them.