I’ll never forget the parting words of one of my pastors to me as I left to attend seminary. On my final Sunday in the church, there was a big celebration as the people sent me off. There was a great service, a shared meal, some gifts, lots of embarrassing pictures from my years there, and plenty of hugs and well wishes.
The last person to pull me aside before I left was one of the pastors. This was the man who had been speaking with me on and off for three years, encouraging me to consider becoming a pastor. He began, “Well, good luck. If I were in your shoes I don’t think I would choose to become a pastor today.” I tried to conceal the shock that I felt must be written all over my face, as he went on, “I’m so glad that I began as a pastor years ago. It was so easy to be a pastor when I was young. It is so difficult now.” He went on a little longer like that, but that was all I heard. I couldn’t shake the shock I felt. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that maybe I had made a bad decision. And I was more than a little upset that he was just telling me all of this now.
In the little over a decade that has followed, I’ve discovered that his gloomy outlook on the ministry isn’t an isolated one. Just this week, an article popped up in my news feed titled Ten Reasons It Is More Difficult To Be A Pastor Today. I don’t disagree with the general sentiment. Serving as a pastor can sometimes be a difficult gig. But no matter what the specific complaints might be, I don’t think it is any more difficult today than it has ever been. Nor do I think that this is a bad time to be a pastor.
In fact, I think it is a great time to be a pastor. Concordia Seminary, where I graduated from, and another seminary in Ft. Wayne, just sent out their annual batch of first-time pastors and soon-to-be pastors (vicars). I hope they approach the people God is directing them to serve with a sense of joy and hope that only serving Jesus can bring. I hope that they start each day in prayer, thanking God for the people they will meet that day, and asking Him to sustain a cheerful spirit within them. Jesus is alive. There is no reason, and no time, to be pessimistic.
This is not to say that pastors have it easy. I simply don’t believe that any generation of pastors has had it easier than another. The challenges might be different, one generation to another, but the tools needed to face those challenges have stayed the same. Truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God: these are the tools God gives to all Christians, pastors too, as they face their trials. The Apostle Paul talks about these tools in his letter to the Ephesians.
He writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
– Ephesians 6:10-18a
It is a great time to be a pastor. Not because the job is easy, or because the trials are few. It’s a great time to be a pastor because the need is great and the time is short. Jesus is coming. Perhaps today will be the day!
It’s a great time to be a pastor because the battle lines are drawn and each pastor stands should-to-shoulder with all the saints of God, fully equipped by Jesus, the One whom death itself could not defeat. This means that every day can and should be approached with joy, no matter how dark the momentary prospects for the future may look.
It’s a great time to be a pastor. I’m confident the Apostle Paul would have said the same thing. One night, about midnight, he and his buddy Silas were sitting chained in prison. But no prison cell was dark enough to extinguish the light of Jesus in them. They were praying and singing hymns to God, and all the other prisoners were listening. There was a great earthquake, the doors were opened, and the prisoners’ chains fell off. When the jailer woke and saw what had happened, he drew his sword to take his own life, fearing the prisoners had escaped. But Paul stopped him, saying “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, and Paul responded simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul took that opportunity to share Jesus with the jailer and his family and that very hour he and all his family were baptized. (Acts 16:25-34)
Paul had every reason to complain. He and Silas had been beaten and mistreated; unfairly locked up they were facing an uncertain future. Yet in that moment they prayed and sang songs to God. They knew that every day that God gave them on this earth was a great day.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
– Philippians 4:4-9