29 May 2008

The hardest aspect of pastoral ministry (part two)

by Dan Phillips

In part one, I laid out the single aspect of pastoral ministry that sets it apart from every other employment a human being can set his hand to: a pastor cannot infallibly measure his success by the visible fruits of his labor.

Some of the comments in the meta (which I commend to you) were so good that it's tempting simply to edit them together as a response. However, one or two still tended in the simplistic, "I-don't-see-what-your-issue-is" direction. So let me try to flesh it out a bit, and give more Biblical background.

The dilemma was expressed poignantly by Ligon Duncan at this year's outstanding Together for the Gospel conference. It was during a discussion after a message and, Herodotus-like, I'll give you a compressed summary:
If you go to a car factory, you might see all this disparate little pieces assembled one by one. And then, at the end — you have a car. It's done! Or even if you do something as insignificant as mowing a lawn, at the end, you can look back — and the lawn is mown. You see it. You're done.

But you can never say that in pastoral ministry. Ever!
And then Ligon put it this way: "Pastors are always wanting to get that interim report card."

He had put it so poignantly that it resonated deeply with me, and brought tears to my eyes. I doubt I was the only one in the room thus affected. Ligon phrased it perfectly, summed up the most trying aspect of pastoral ministry: insofar as you're a tender-hearted, God-centered pastor at all, you're desperate to know if you're pleasing Him, desperate to find some way of telling — now! — what you're going to hear when your ministry stands in review.

But there is no interim report-card. Not really.

If there were, what would it be? What is the visible, right-now, infallible indicator? Businesses have used the phrase, "How are we doing?" Every God-honoring pastor would like to be able to ask the Lord, "How am I doing?"

How could we tell? By numbers? If so, then Joel Osteen is a God-blessed success. Robert Schuller, Benny Hinn, Bishop Arius, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, Charles Finney, Harry Emerson Fosdick, every pope, Mohammed, Buddha — all of them have God's seal of approval, if numbers tell the tale.

And conversely, Jeremiah was a failure. Isaiah was a failure. Elijah was a failure. Moses was a failure. Paul failed in Lystra, and at other times. And, what's more, by that mark (I speak as a fool), Jesus was a failure, more than once. Edwards and Machen and Athanasius in their lifetimes experienced failure, at the points we (in retrospect) count them as most successful for the Kingdom.

But, if large numbers are no sure sign, then are small crowds, by contrast, proof of faithfulness, and large crowds just proof of the converse? Then Whitefield was a failure, Spurgeon was a failure; Piper is a failure, McArthur is a failure.

If outward signs are unreliable — and they surely are — can we tell how well we please God, by using internal indicators? Will He give us a reliable sense of success, a feeling that we are pleasing Him? Do we get that "interim report card" in our hearts, our souls?

If so, that sense was denied (at one time or another) to Jeremiah, to Asaph, to David.

I think we have to admit it: there is no single, analogous, infallible advance-indicator of pastoral success, externally or internally.

And yet pastoral ministry is vital, indispensable, essential, God-conceived, God-given, God-required, God-ordained, God-centered, and God-evaluated. We can't shrug off the question.

What's more, if you're worth anything as a pastor, you care. You care a lot. It isn't of distant or academic interest, because this isn't a hobby. It's your life, and you know that its echoes sound out into eternity.

What's more, if you're married and have children, the course of your ministry does not only affect you. It affects the dearest woman in your world, and the dearest children in your world, all of whose lives are indissolubly bound up with you.

If you — for the sake of argument, and to be blunt, simple and bottom-line — take a Biblically-necessary, God-honoring stand that alienates the people who pay your salary; if you see numbers steadily dwindle; if you see bills pile up; if you see yourself eventually forced to move... what kind of jerk could just shrug dispassionately and say, "Oh, well. Long as I'm being faithful" — and not care? It's your wife whose lot in life is bound up with yours. It's your children who have to uproot their lives, lose all their friends and familiar surroundings, and wander off where you wander.

If you mess up, they get messed up.

It matters!

So what's a pastor to do?

Next time, Lord willing, such as I have will be yours, in short form.

Dan Phillips's signature


JackW said...

All this is true and well said ... but isn't it true for every christian?

DJP said...

No, it isn't. I must have failed to make this clear: "the single aspect of pastoral ministry that sets it apart from every other employment a human being can set his hand to [is that] a pastor cannot infallibly measure his success by the visible fruits of his labor."

A Christian mechanic knows when he has succeeded in his employment, a Christian cook, a Christian gardener, farmer, business-owner, trucker, nurse, short-order cook... engineer. How have I not made this clear? Each has objective standards of measurement denied to pastors.

You did read all of both posts? I have to admit, this is a discouraging first comment to me.

I suppose I should say now, as I've tried to warn off "just" commenters in the first meta: if you want to say, "Oh well, it's exactly the same for everybody, pastors should just buck up and get on with it," then that means I've simply failed to make my point. I'm not going to re-write both posts again and again in the meta.

FX Turk said...


I think Jack's question is this -- doesn't every Christian, in his striving to be pleasing with Christ, have the problem that the interim report card is, um, blank?

I have an answer to that, but as the expert on this topic of the burden of being a pastor, I'll give you the floor until lunch time.


Spud said...

Well, yes, it is. Except those of us who do ministry as an avocation instead of a vocation don't have to worry about the paycheck part of it. But solid Christian workers, toiling for the harvest, live with the same overshadowing feelings of "Am I doing this right? Am I making any difference at all? How can I ever tell?". So in that sense, yeah.

It's good you're thinking about this, now that you've chosen to enter vocational ministry yourself! It does kind of beg the question "Why?", but I know the answer, and I assume that will be in Part 3. Good to know the downsides before you get started. It's the only job I know besides parenthood that you don't get the grade card for until it's over--if it's ever really over!

DJP said...

Frank — if so, then once again, I have failed to get across the focus of these three posts.

Spud — I think parenting may be about the closest parallel. But it isn't the same, either.

donsands said...

I remember when my pastor said to the church board that he wasn't working for them, and though they paid him, he wasn't their employee. Many in the congregation didn't understand this.

To be called to shepherd God's sheep is the highest of all vocations on earth, and even elders in the church.

Satan will fight against the shepherds in greater ways then he does the flock.

This was a well balanced post. The Apostle Paul said that he didn't judge himself, and that the Lord will judge him on that Day, so it's little matter if others judged him.

James Scott Bell said...

Dan, I've been reading Psalm 86 lately, and this thought occured to me after reading your post: What about ASKING (pleading with?) God for an interim report? (Ps. 86:17; Neh. 5:19)

JackW said...

Sorry Dan, I was just seeing application for all christians, as you mentioned in your first post.

There is a sense though, that if A pastor is going to run his church like the world runs their organizations, then you may as well measure his success by the same standards. I'm sure that's not you though.

I pray that you and your family are greatly blessed through this decision.

DJP said...

"I was just seeing application for all christians"

No disagreement there, and I'll try to make that point in the next post, DV.

Thanks very much for your prayers, I really appreciate it.

DJP said...

JackW — it was the "All this is true and well said ... but" that snagged me. If all you meant to say is, "Is there an application of what you're saying to Christians?", then I misunderstood you, and apologize for doing so. Had you said that, I'd have readily agreed. I thought you were saying something different; again, if I mistook your point, I am sorry.

Chris Roberts said...

The Christian engaged in secular employment struggles as a Christian to determine whether or not he is living as a faithful follower of God. But as an employee he has things within his job that are measurable to determine whether or not he is doing good work in his job.

The Christian engaged in religious vocation struggles as a Christian to determine whether or not he is living as a faithful follower of God. In addition, as an employee he has the same exact struggle. Throughout his life there is very little he can hand his hat on and say, "I did that well." Whereas the Christian in secular employment is able to find some reassurance of good work, the Christian in religious vocation has less.

There are blessed moments, moments when someone's face shows you have helped them understand some biblical truth, or moments when you can see you helped someone stand under a crisis. But there is no job well done until the very end of ministry, and so questions always linger. "Sure, I helped the person through this crisis, but did I do so in a way that helps them rely on God and not on me for the next crisis,..." and on and on it goes.

DJP said...

Well-said, Chris. You gave me this thought, which may be clarifying.

Say a cook serves a meal, and immediately everyone in the restaurant runs out of the place, howling in anger, never to return again.

In that situation, it is inconceivable that his boss would ever say, "Well-done!"

However, in an analogous situation, it is conceivable that the pastor's "Boss" would say, "Well-done!"

Further you say: But there is no job well done until the very end of ministry... at which point (I would add) it will be impossible to go back and un-do or re-do anything.

Which heightens the stakes and the pressure.

Chris Roberts said...


To be called to shepherd God's sheep is the highest of all vocations on earth

I have heard people say this before, but I tend to disagree. I disagree "from the inside", as someone who is at the beginning point of pastoral ministry.

All Christians are called to serve God in different ways. The church needs to have all of these people using their gifts in order for the ministry of the church to fully glorify God. There is a sense in which one vocation could be called higher than another based on the number of lives touched by that vocation. In that case, we might call pastoral ministry the highest. But if we are talking in terms of intrinsic value behind the vocation, I belief the playing field is more or less level. Responsibilities differ, challenges differ. I think pastoral ministry is one of the most difficult tasks a Christian could pursue. But it also has great rewards. But the challenges and rewards do not mean that a Christian serving the Lord as a school teacher or a college professor or - heaven forbid - an IRS auditor is serving in any sort of lesser capacity.

The Christian factory worker who does everything in faith is serving a much higher calling than a pastor who works for a paycheck. A pastor who does everything in faith is not serving any higher a calling than a Christian factory worker who does everything in faith.

If the calling is the same, then why try to rank the different areas into which we are called? We are on the same mission and we are serving the same God. When we stand before him, there is no highest vocation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all you've said here and in the past post, Dan. So then, why would anyone want to be a pastor? Why subject one's self to this kind of life?

The answer obviously is - a true pastor, a shepherd of God's people, is called to this life. Not in the sense of a career choice, like one whould choose between being a doctor or lawyer or plumber. But rather a calling, or more likely a compulsion from God to enter into this role. Chosen by Him to embrace the life of an undershepherd and a proclaimer. To care deeply about the Shepherd and His flock. It seems to me that any man pursuing the role of pastor should not be doing so because he wants to, but because he's compelled to by Christ.

Hoping and praying that's where you are at, DJP. And also my own son who is on this same path, education-wise.

Beal said...


Good thoughts. I have 2 things:

1. When you say, "If you — for the sake of argument, and to be blunt, simple and bottom-line — take a Biblically-necessary, God-honoring stand that alienates the people who pay your salary; if you see numbers steadily dwindle; if you see bills pile up; if you see yourself eventually forced to move..." are you implying this is a wrong thing? Orrr...? I've heard of this happening in ministry a lot. But we must be faithful right? Could you expound here?

2. What situation are ya'll talking about? I must be in the dark on something here....

NoLongerBlind said...

Chris R.: "When we stand before Him, there is no highest vocation"

I know this isn't exactly your point, but, doesn't James 3:1 seem to indicate that there is more Divine scrutiny given to those who "choose" (or , preferrably, are chosen)
to enter the ministry?
That would certainly seem to give credence to the statement Dan made.

DJP said...

Yes, St. Brianstine, that would be the right thing to do. That's why I made up almost a cartoonishly simple situation. I could have put it this way: "Suppose the only thing that would please God would be a stand that alienated everyone and meant terrible circumstances." I was trying for a black and white picture for the purpose of illustration.

timb said...

I'm really looking forward to the conclusion of this series, I felt like you really left us hanging at the end today after building up all this anticipation.

"However, in an analogous situation, it is conceivable that the pastor's "Boss" would say, "Well-done!"" --But as you pointed out that really hurts... when your a cook it's easy to say "I messed up the food"

As a pastor, then you start to question "did I mess up" and wonder "did my 'messing up' lead to people getting messed up?" You start to ask, 'could I have been more gentle? Did I give to much spicy meat when I had babes who still needed milk? Or was I truly giving the milk they needed but they rejected it.'

Anyways, looking forward to your continued thoughts, thanks djp.

Chris said...

I went from being employed full-time at a seeker sensitive, purpose-driven, program driven church to getting a secular job and serving bi-vocationally so that I could pastor a new church plant. I left the church because of my new found convictions that what the church needed was expositional preaching and not happy talk. I moved forward believing that this was more God-honoring, but I have to honestly say that I have never felt God "pat me on the back" or reassure me that he has been pleased. The transition has been especially hard because it had a huge impact on my three and five year old children who loved their previous church. So these posts have been extremely relevant for myself.

olan strickland said...

But there is no interim report-card. Not really.

If there were, what would it be? What is the visible, right-now, infallible indicator?

There is no interim report-card because we are still "taking the test." And you are 100% correct to answer the questions you put forth by the truth that pragmatism or judging by appearance (visible right-now, infallible indicators) are never reliable indicators. Jesus said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Judging by pragmatic results and appearances is why so many are deceived by the false prophets and teachers. Pragmatism is one of the devil's most insidious and successful methods to deceive.

However, the test that we are taking is an "open book" exam. While we may struggle at times and agonize over how we are doing, there are some indicators in the Word of God that lets us know to a degree how we are doing. For instance, although Jeremiah struggled tremendously at times, he still was able to know that he was serving God and was not himself a false prophet. When Jeremiah had to prophesy to the people of the impending Babylonian captivity, Hananiah spoke to the people and declared there would be no Babylonian captivity. So how did Jeremiah know that he was true and Hananiah was false? He knew because his message was in-line with the true prophets from ancient times and Hananiah's was not - "The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence (Jeremiah 28:8).

We are also told in the Bible how to test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God and the clear indicator is not "numbers" but "message." "They [false prophets] are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We [true prophets] are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:5-6).

This doesn't mean that we don't struggle and agonize at times if we are doing what is right - but it does mean that we have a firm anchor to keep us grounded.

This is similar to markers in a channel that are used to guide ships safely into harbor - if all the markers line up then the captain knows that he is in safe water. If our message lines up with the prophets and apostles of the Lord - men of God vindicated by the Word of God - then we can know that we are in "safe water."

DJP said...

God bless you, Chris. I hope the discussion has been, and the conclusion will be, encouraging for you.

Rachael Starke said...

As one of the "mommy" readers, I was about to take (very small, and very brief, as this seems to be a genuine point of discouragement) issue with the idea that pastoring is unique even to parenting...


then I considered all the aspects of parenting that are more tangible - e.g. I've taught 2 of my 3 girls so far to read (the mechanics, not the discipline), tie their shoes, etc. And in the process of considering those things I think now I get your point. In parenting, I know that I was the one that taught my girls how to read "cat." I was there and saw it happen, helped make it happen. In spiritual things, however, it is the Holy Spirit who helps make it all happen, and the challenge is identifying whether He is helping THROUGH a pastor or IN SPITE OF a pastor, particularly when the work He is doing is of the Jeremaiah variety....

I still think the answers lie in understanding God's purposes and God's methods, all of which are laid out in God's manual.

And hopefully there will be some good tips for how those of us who ARE being fed and shepherded faithfully can encourage our pastors....

And in that vein, two things. First, I know I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating - if faithfulness to God's Word in its entirety and to its passionate, engaging declaration are hallmarks of a successful ministry, you're there, in spades. Doesn't matter if you're doing it digitally instead of in a building. Some of the things you've written here have had a profound Godward impact on my life, and I know there will be more the future.

Second, another fact that we all know and yet perhaps could bear repeating today - remember that ultimately it is Christ's faithfulness to us and His finished work on our behalf that determines God's pleasure in us.He IS pleased with you! Like you've said before, that doesn't say anything about how short you will fall, but how infinitely good and loving He is.

MSC said...

I am sure these posts resonate with many pastors. I was 'called' to pastoral ministry while rising to the peak of a well-paying job as an architect in a highly respected architectural firm. I loved this job for many reasons and it was very painful to leave. That was in 1997. Since then, I cannot say that there have not been times when I have wondered what in the world I have done.

Pastoring a church is at times painful, frustrating and full of all kinds of uncertainty. Sometimes you celebrate what you think are blessings that turn around and appear more to be curses. Dan is so right, it is very difficult to measure success. I struggle weekly and often daily as to how to judge the success (i.e. "fruit") of the ministry. And yet, I am ever compelled to press forward, to dig my roots deeper and to pray for greater strength and wisdom to be more effective. Recently reading D. A. Carson's book about his father was a tremendous encouragement and I recommend it for all struggling pastors.

Mike said...

The question posed by this part-two post is easy to me. The report card isn't external; it's internal. And yes, it's the same for every Christian (except with respect to the calling), because God is no respecter of persons. If a pastor is called, the gift will make room for him (Pro 18:16) and the Holy Ghost will teach through him... IF the pastor is called.

How do you get a report card? There is no report card. But you measure "success" not by failures (though failures there may be), but by the presence of God. There is nothing like the presence of God, nothing. Prayer is practicing the presence of God.

This is true whether you're a pastor or not.

The report card comes in the form of "Well done, thou faithful servant" when you stand before God in the Bema Judgement.

But in this life, let not our thinking be one of being "profitable servant" for Christ, for all of us are unprofitable servants whether we be pastors or no (Luke 17:10).

That's why there's no report card. There's only the presence of God, and it trumps everything else in this world and the next.

Dave .... said...

OK, then. None of is called to "succeed". It seems that the hardest part might be to intentionally live your life and ministry in constant tension. Knowing that you will never "succeed" but that you must constantly strive.

"Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself,but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:2-4, ESV)

I think this is the bane of "professional" ministry. It's what turns ministers into man-pleasers. And worse, they turn away from the sheep to the goats (and not in a good way) to achieve a success that was never intended to be in the church. It's very sad and I see it all around. Virtually every time I see a new vinyl banner hung out front of some church announcing that "we've changed to suit YOU".

The trap is to look for external validation of "success", when it's a clear conscience, accountable to biblical standards, that matters. But, oh bother, we can JUST move the standard through a man-centered isogesis, and have it our way anyway.

donsands said...

"A pastor who does everything in faith is not serving any higher a calling than a Christian factory worker who does everything in faith." chris roberts

I disgaree, but it's a gray area for me.

Someone quoted James 3:1, which is the Scripture I was thinking of.

Also, to whom much is given much is required.
The disciples of Christ, the Apostles had an even higher calling, methinks.

I don't believe everyone is equal in their calling. The shepherds and evangelists have a great honor before them, and yet these gifted men from the Lord, who are gifts to the Church, are also simply brothers, and sinners, and in that we are equal.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

First, I agree that this is a somewhat unique problem with pastoral ministry. But, it is not completely unique to pastoral ministry. Actually, many jobs have less than adequate or clear "visible fruits" of labor.

Let's look at the social worker, for example (lots of overlap with some aspects of pastoral ministry). No doubt that some of the high burnout in social work is related to a perceived lack of "visible fruit". Part of this is practical, in that social workers are dealing with populations with multi-faceted problems (and are often applying band-aids over open wounds). But also, while there may be measures of "success", they are going to be incomplete and inadequate. In fact, often the measures of success lead to more problems - such as you point out with the problem of measuring a pastor's success by looking at the numbers in the pews.

None of this is meant to diminish the difficulty of pastoral ministry, or the frustrations of measuring one's success or failure in pastoral ministry. However, there are actually many employees who cannot infallibly measure their success. Most performance appraisals, even when they appear to be based on fairly objective measures, are very fallible, with many sources of error (well documented by research).

Herding Grasshoppers said...


I don’t suppose you anticipated how much this topic would resonate with some of your “mommy readers”. (Reformedmommy, thanks for the reminder to encourage our pastors.)

We may not swim in the deep theological waters you inhabit (no sarcasm intended there!), but we also struggle with doubt, discouragement, and – often – a dire lack of being appreciated by those we serve HERE.

We work hard to build God’s truth into others’ lives. We are continually called upon to discern how to meet both the immediate needs while serving God’s eternal purposes. And we are generally thought of (by “the world”) as being simple-minded, out-dated, irrelevant, and of little value.

I’m not trying to hijack your post here. You’re a dad. You know these things.

My point is that, to some extent, we feel your pain. And, if what encourages me might encourage you, I share these words:

“We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds back nothing for self.”
- St. Philippine Duchesne

David Kyle said...

As a pastor in this very sort of situation I too would like a peek into the "report card". As we all know that ain't gonna happen. I believe the answer lies not in taking that peek, but being driven to searching out and knowing the One Who is keeping score. We must never be driven by "how am I doing", but what does God expect. Christ showed us what is expected if we are confused.

My church has steadfastly declined in numbers since I was called and now there are only three families left (one of which is mine). All who have left have indicated it is because of the emphasis I place on evangelism and preaching verse by verse through the Bible. I am tempted to throw my hands up in despair over people leaving instead of people changing, but I was called to pastor and it is God's business to change the hearts of Who He wants.

My desire to know how I am doing smells of pride to me and I repent of it. I will weep over those who have left, but I must not "keep score". Thank you so much for this series of articles, it speaks to me where I am at.

Mike said...

"The Christian factory worker who does everything in faith is serving a much higher calling than a pastor who works for a paycheck. A pastor who does everything in faith is not serving any higher a calling than a Christian factory worker who does everything in faith."

I disagree. The pastor has double the honor of the Christian worker (1 Tim 5:17). I do agree, though, that the same calling is the same for both pastor and layperson; however the pastor's calling as a shepherd is his and is diferent from a layperson's own calling.

The secret is trusting in the Lord for the work in pastoring, not in himself.

Let's remember that it's all done by Him and for Him (Col 1:16). It's Him that brings the increase (1 Cor 3:16), not us.

Connie said...

Very much enjoying this series of posts, as well as the subsequent comments and 'sharpening'. Looking foward to reading your next (last?) installment!

I believe much of your thinking/writing also has much to say to we wifes of pastors--we get to see the struggle up close and personal and strive to stand beside them and offer BIBLICAL encouragment rather than 'warm fuzzies'.

Solameanie said...

I have to be encouraged by the Apostle Paul's words toward the end of his life . . .

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Of course, we can consider the special position of an Apostle in the sense of direct revelation from the Lord, but we also know from Paul's writings that he had struggles as well. But in the end, he came to a glorious conclusion, based on his faith in the One who promised to complete what He had started.

I hurt when I read comments such as the one by Witness. That has to be awful, especially when you consider how hard hearts must be when they'd rather hear anything else but the Word of God. It helps a bit to realize it's the spirit of the age, but it still grieves.

Timotheos said...

I serve as a pastor of a small church in a community that has 45 churches drawing from a population of 8000+. My first Sunday nearly 10 years ago, we had 9. Last Sunday we had 18. I am tri-vocational and my wife also works to help make ends meet. I preach expositionally, visit our families and try to develop contacts in the community.

I've seen families come and go. I've seen a couple return because they weren't being fed. And, I've seen others leave cause we don't have a thriving children or youth ministry.

I've contemplated slapping some of these people in the head for their shortsightedness. And, I've contemplated getting out of the ministry entirely.

I've been my own worst critic, and I've watched as the ministry has caused a strain in my family, as my wife serves as 'everything not already covered by the pastor.'

We are, and have been seriously considering stepping out of the ministry to seek a job that will provide security and perhaps 'retirement.'

I have no doubt that the Lord called us to ministry. And yet, there is the doubt that occurs when one looks out in the congregation on that Sunday and you note that the same four families that told you 'we will be in church Sunday' aren't there, again.

It is easy to grow discouraged in ministry, when one judges your ministry on the basis of external standards, such as numerical growth, financial giving, and even spiritual growth to a certain extent.

As a pastor, I am not called to grow my church. I am not called to grow the treasury. And, I am not called to grow the facilities. I am called to preach,teach,love, and equip the people for the work of the ministry.

Speaking with a pastor friend one day, I noted that it is the Lord that builds the church. Some churches, He chooses to bless simply because its His prerogative. Others He chooses to bless by not growing them according to our expectations.

I thank you for this series.
In the grip of His Grace,

donsands said...

"I am called to preach,teach,love, and equip the people for the work of the ministry."

Amen. And whether 18 people, or 180, or 1,800, it matters not. Keep on Tim. The Lord is pleased when His pastors serve this way.

I have a friend in Nepal, and his brother-in-law is a pastor of people in three different villages. Jivan is an amazing pastor. And by the grace of God, and the help of the church here in America, he has purchased a piece of land and now has built a small church building, where they can all come and worship the Lord Jesus and hear the word preached. There has never been a church in this part of Nepal, and the nearby residents, many have not heard of Jesus Christ at all.

The Gospel goes forth, and God has His pastors.

DJP said...

M — your comment's gone for two reasons:

1. You link off to a site with some significant doctrinal error; and

2. I found it seriously in violation of Romans 12:15b.

Timotheos — I hear you, and I feel for you and your situation. God bless you and encourage you, God strengthen and bless your wife, God grant power to your preaching of His Word, God grant clarity of through to you two as you consider exactly what course to take.

1 Corinthians 15:58b

Gilbert said...

Timotheos and Witness:

Wow. You gentlemen are the "real deal". Sometimes you just want to quit and the temptation is almost overwhelming. Unless God has called you clearly to leave, in Jesus' name, I must tell you to fight the good fight! Your sheep are being fed, which cannot be said for most of the entire planet!
We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so therefore our report card is zero on all counts. If we could "work" to an 'A', it would be a nightmare. How do we know when we have done enough? Isn't that works-based faith?

IMO, the report card is this:

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.

---1 Timothy 5:12 (NIV)

Wasn't that Jesus' example? Examine your life based on this grade A standard, and let God work on you and the power of Jesus Christ lead you by his Word and Holy Spirit. I look forward, as all of you do, to seeing the finale of this excellent series.

But I do have one final comment about your post. See, Dan's report card IS there. Yep, he got an advanced copy! I don't know what angel's strings he pulled, but he obviously blurred it out so that we couldn't see it. Thankfully, using emerging (not Emergent) technology, I was able to decipher it:


Proper sword handling.........D
Driving Emergents crazy.......A-
Blogging w/o controversy......D+
Making healthy pizzas.........F
Driving the rest of us crazy..C
Combining pipe organ and piano
with vegetable medley.........B

Now we know what he needs to work on. ;-) ;-) ;-)

CR said...

John MacArthur preached a message not long ago on contentment. He said that many pastors experience "burnout" and he asked the question why don't we hear ditch diggers say they are "burnt out." (Well, I think one answers is ditch diggers don't have Masters of Divinity and they don't have the same expectation or feel they deserve more).

Anyway, MacArthur's response was I believe anytime you believe you deserve more you feel less content. If you put things in perspective and realize you deserve Hell you learn to be content in a lot of things, I guess. (It's difficult for American Christians because we're bombarded by the media telling us to be unhappy with our bodies, homes, cars, spouses, etc.).

But, you introduced in interesting caveat Dan and that is what is a pastor to do, when the response from the congregation affects the ability to support his family.

The Scriptures teach that a man who does not support his family is worse than an unbeliever. So, I think the answer is to accept the providence of God and move on to where the pastor can support his family. That may mean, if he is able, to accept another position at another church. If that is not possible, then it may mean to leave the ministry temporarily or permanently and find secular work so he can support his family.

I think it's important to consider other possibilities. One of your examples in part 1 I believe asked what is a pastor to do if he is faithful to the Word and yet his congregation rejects him. It might be that the Lord wants to pull that pastor out and place him somewhere else. Other possibilities: you have church splits, right? Can it not be in the providence of God that he allows churches to be split because in His providence He wants to remove godly men and congregants out of there because they are not good churches to be in. We know that the Lord allows false teaching to exist in churches because He wants to test the faithfulness of His own and also to judge the goats.

But again, the key is which you concluded in your part 2, what happens if the implications affect the ability of a pastor to support his family. That pastor does not have the option to not support his family and must therefore go somewhere else to find work.

Gilbert said...

One last serious (gasp!) post for this thread.

And I quote:

God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on him.
- Hudson Taylor

We don't have the impact God has planned for us when we're pursuing impact; we have it when we're pursuing God.
- Phil Vischer

From the beginning, Christians have been tempted to confuse success with faith.
- Mark Galli

And finally, from Spurgeon:

It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.
- Charles Spurgeon

All taken from the June 2008 issue of The Lutheran Ambassador.

Hayden said...


I get what you are talking about and give you a hearty AMEN! Don't be discouraged, you have really encouraged thsi pastor.

Mike said...

Care to clarify which doctrinal error?

DJP said...

Not at the cost of breaking rule 3. You have a blank profile, or I'd email you. Email me if you honestly are so new to this site that you don't already know the answer.

Josh said...

I know this comment is a day late but I just got around to reading this post.

I am a young pastor I have been in ministry a relatively short period of time (11 years) and have so much to learn. There are many who have gone before me with so much more wisdom that I am trying to glean from.

I appreciate this post because in my own denomination (Baptist)there is a lot of pressure to succeed. I have been told in the last month that for the church that I serve at I need to see a 5% growth in my church - salvation, conversion, baptisms, new people, etc...

I became senior pastor of the church I am serving in about a year ago. Yesterday through the Holy Spirit I was used to lead my first convert to the Lord.

I preach expositionally and exegetically, I am a Calvinist, and apparently a failure according to my denomination's leadership.

Part of the reason that I don't think I get an interim report card is that it makes me spiritually fat and tempted to rest on my laurels (also known as self-righteousness and works of the flesh).

When I don't get the interim report card, I feel a sense of urgency to continually give myself to the Lord in service, nothing is enough, or ever good enough, for my love of Christ compels me to consider that I need to seek to be a fragrant offering unto the Lord.

And then I take hold of Phil 4:4 - which tells me to rejoice in the Lord, and not myself.

Lisa said...

In regards to true Biblical womanhood that opposes women preachers, I have found the most common argument FOR women preachers is "But look how God has blessed their ministry. Look at how many peoples lives are changed. If she is preaching the truth and proclaiming the Gospel and her ministry is successful than God has obviously blessed it and approves of it."

Ummm.... no.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Yes, we are all called as Christians to go into the world and make disciples, teaching people to observe whatever Christ has commanded. Yes, there is a judgment when we screw that up. But I dare say, for those men called into the ministry of preaching, that judgment will be far stricter! *shudder*

Think about it in light of the weight of responsibility upon such a man entrusted to shepherd a flock. Entrusted to preach the Truth of God's very Word and live it out. A weight he cannot bear alone. Why are we not praying more fervently for these men?

Philip said...

Just a note to say I stumbled on this blog and it has been really interesting.

I'm a pastor in the UK. I had a 'failed' ministry in Anglicanism, where reformed preaching was brushed aside by most.....and fell into a dreadful depression....still suffering today but not so bad. I now pastor a little free church which is a delight. We are just moving to 2 Sunday services - which is causeing me to give thanks and also angst that I must not get proudful. So it is refreshing to read your 2 articles.

thanks indeed.

DJP said...

Thanks for sharing that; it's wonderful to hear. It's a nice problem you're having, isn't it? (I've often dreamed of how pleasant it would be to have that struggle of not getting arrogant in the face of blossoming crowds!)

God bless you, encourage you, and keep you. And make stumbling onto us a regular thing!

Jonathan Hunt said...

Dan, great thread, am really enjoying it and looking forward to the rest.

Vimto - if you read this, good to hear your testimony. I am also ministering to a small free church here in England - drop me a line!

Unknown said...

Your discussion and follow-on dialog has been very interesting. Note: my comments are from someone not working in Christian ministry, but inclined to do so with much of my heart.

From my observation of friends who are pastors and missionaries, the applicability of your notes is definitely very relevant to those in vocational ministry as well as those Christians in other vocations who seek a report card on their sacred efforts.

However, I have a hard time with the attempt to isolate pastoral ministry as a singular work that has no tangible way to rightly assess their efforts.

The vocations that have been compared with pastoral ministry are indeed good examples of tangible measures, but there are other vocations in which results seem to be similarly intangible. I choose one that makes my point: "Christian psychology". There are other vocations that cannot be tangibly measured by exact measures. Even having one's boss say "good job" is very a subjective measure and without a lot of merit as to the true nature of one's performance.

So why do I contend or ask? Because I'm concerned that in arguing that one work of God is especially more difficult than another is risking our dabbling with pride. I'm not trying to make the case that various works of ministry are not more difficult than others, but that there are different gifting for those called into different vocations, and it's God's grace that provides the talent, ability, and sufficiency to work within any of those vocations.

I believe your observations are accurate on, and relate to, all who believe and seek to live for the Gospel instead of living for the world in all we do whether at work in the factory, in the hospital, or even the pastorate. This in the context of believers resisting building their kingdoms and storing their treasures here while working in "secular" occupations.

On the other hand, the pastorate appears rather difficult in that assessing a Christian's growth and how they are prepared for "work of ministry" (Ephe 4.12) is probably very difficult. But isn't this something that can indeed be measured? Not with attendance numbers on Sunday morning, but in other ways e.g. the flock biting less (for one), the flock finding freedom from sin, the flock becoming bold to share the gospel and counsel other believers, the flock performing various works of ministry so that those who are called will be saved.

So, the score card isn't easy to determine, very subjective on first appearance, but also measurable with appropriate metrics.

Please forgive me for any arrogance that may come through my writing, I'm trying to be cautious with my heart and comments. I'm also trying to discuss this topic so if there is something I'm don't understand, I can better learn about the struggles that those who are a gift to the church bear. With that, I'll be able to better pray for my pastors and if the Lord does move me into that vocation, I'll have a more appropriate understanding of the labor (counting the cost).

Thank you,
In His Mighty Grip,

GUNNY said...

What is the visible, right-now, infallible indicator? Businesses have used the phrase, "How are we doing?" Every God-honoring pastor would like to be able to ask the Lord, "How am I doing?"

The other thing that comes to my mind is that I may have been doing well yesterday or last year, but that's no guarantee I will be doing well tomorrow or next year.

It's humbling to remember how easy it is to find oneself in certain failure.

Success may be hard to identify, but sometimes failure can be quite obvious, when Christ is dishonored by those allegedly His servants.

ezekiel said...

John 14:10 and Ephesians 2:10 make it pretty clear that what we do are not our works but His.

Luke 17:7 Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, Come at once and recline at table? 8 Will he not rather say to him, Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.

Why do we need to even try to gauge our success? Is it our success or lack thereof to begin with?

As far as the wife goes, 1 Cor 7:33

Lisa said...

...take a Biblically-necessary, God-honoring stand that alienates the people who pay your salary...

As someone who is not a pastor and never will be, all I can say is, even though standing for the truth may alienate the people who pay your salary and affect your family, I am thankful that you would stand for truth in spite of such things. I see in this, a pastor unwilling to be of the accursed that compromises the Gospel according to Galatians 1:9. I see a bond-servant of Christ seeking to please God above man according to Galatians 1:10. And I bet your wife would much rather be married to a man that did not compromise the Gospel just so that she could be comfortable... and your children, as much as it may be difficult for them to leave their friends, would much rather have a dad who was a man of integrity that stood firm on the Rock, than a man that was easily tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. I could be wrong because I am not a pastor, nor am I a pastors wife. But I have seen my husband stand firm in our neighborhood Bible study, risking our comfort zone among neighbors, risking our friendships for the sake of standing for truth... and I know that does even touch the tip of the iceberg of what pastors go through... but what I do know is that I would rather my husband serve God and stand for God's Truth, than waiver because he cared too much about what other people think... including me.

Anonymous said...

I am a pastor a bit later in life and have been for a whole 10 months now. I sometimes day dream about my years as a landscaper because I could drive by former clients' homes and bask in the fruit of my labor.

I can no longer do that. I have had times of difficulty with these things already. I feel called to small church ministry for life. I sometimes feel like I'm getting nowhere - and when I'm feeling this way I realize that I am comparing myself to other pastors.

My darling wife keeps reminding me that God did not call me to be faithful with their gifts, abilities, etc. He called me to be faithful with mine.

I know that I need to redefine my understanding of success to be that of obedience - essentially Soli Deo Gloria, but I struggle.

Thanks for the articles. Thanks to the folks here who have posted. I have been built up by both the articles and many of the comments.

musicman said...

I am not a pastor but have worked in Christian Ministries for nearly half my career. I think this topic is fascinating. I am chewing on the concept of an "interim report card". As I read the article, I thought..true..God does not give pastors a written review and the nature of a local church makes it hard to translate profit and attendence into success or failure. However, my mind then moved on to this thought. It occurred to me that if a pastor feels that insecure and unfullfilled about serving the people in his congregation, not many of them could possibly be true believers. Jesus said we would know his disciples by their love for one another. If the love of Christ is not reciprocating back to the pastor...then the church is not filled with disciples of Jesus Christ but rather posers and frauds....not to be dramatic or anything....

Messyanic Jew said...


While I'm not a pastor, this is a series that is resonating deeply with me. I spent 8 years in full-time missions and CONSTANTLY fought with myself over measuring my success in numbers.

I'm no longer on the mission field, but after some time off the field have come to the conclusion that numbers could mean something, at least in the work I was doing. They could be an indicator of success in the only area that mattered -- as a measure of the faithfulness with which I fulfilled God's call on my life to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I realize this is not at all the same as pastoring a church, and wouldn't for a moment argue that it is. But I believe the same measure of "success" can apply in both situations: is the call which God has placed on an individuals life being faithfully fulfilled?

Messyanic Jew said...


I, too, am praying for you.

Unknown said...

I attended the Desiring God conference, STAND, last year. John MacArthur shared on the endurance of the saints regarding ministry. Regarding success, or the idea of pass fail (interim report card), his admonition was to work unto the Lord, to be faithful in efforts, that the "results" are up to God. I believe this to be is an exhortation to those who are in both vocational and avocational ministry as well as work place ministries.

I recommend all to give those messages a listen - the can be downloaded free from http://www.desiringgod.org