A word of encouragement for discouraged young ministers.
No matter how dark or how unseen the hand of God may be, he is always working.
In a previous post, I announced my new position as a youth pastor for a new church body. I am excited and eager to get to work building relationships and sharing the gospel with the youth of both the church and the community at large. This will definitely be a challenge for both Natalie and me as we gain the trust of the youth and their parents, and seek to disciple them in the boundless truth of God’s grace.
As I made this announcement, there was both a sense of relief and a sense of trepidation. The trepidation came from just the unknown future of what this role will entail. I know and believe that God has a particular plan for my wife and me and this church. We were put there on purpose, and even though I don’t know what it’s going to look like two years, five years down the road, God has us there on a mission for him and his Kingdom. The trepidation also creeps in because I know myself. I know my idiosyncrasies and how if a certain message or activity doesn’t pan out how I think it will, I’ll dwell on it and get discouraged. That’s something I have to fight. Like anyone else, I need faith to have faith in God’s faith. My constant battle is for the belief in God’s gospel over and above anything else that tries to win my attention. The fear of the unknown is soon expelled by faith in the One who holds the future.
But there was also a sense of relief that overcame me. Relief that a long-sought-after prayer had finally been answered. As I mentioned before, I’ve been praying for a ministry to fully put my feet into for a long while now. There were times when I didn’t think it was going to happen, times when I even doubted God’s call and direction for my life. And I’m not meaning to say that I won’t certainly have these same feelings down the road. But I’d like to address you, a young aspiring minister because I know what you’re going through.
If you’re in college right now or about to graduate and you’re still unsure of where God’s calling you . . . If you feel passionate about preaching but have yet to find out where . . . If you’re feeling discouraged because of God’s seeming lack of direction for you in ministry . . . If you’re frustrated with God’s prolonged waiting season . . . If you’re struggling to find time to work and continue preparing for ministry . . . I’d like to address you. I know your feelings and I know your frustrations. But I also know what got me through these last few years of waiting on God: God himself. Regardless of how many times I doubted him and even thwarted his intentions, he was there, patiently waiting for me to realize that his way was best. My best advice for you is just to continue trusting him, even when you don’t think you can. Or, as my friend Dan Price said in a sermon, “Even when we can’t hold fast, Christ holds fast to us.” God’s grip on you won’t ever diminish. He’s got you in the palm of his hand. Even when it doesn’t seem like he even remembers you, he’s holding you.
That’s the truth that sustained me. I was reminded over and over again that it’s not my grip on Christ that matters, but his grip on me. That’s what encouraged and inspired me throughout this journey. It’s also what inspired my own ministry preparations. The following are four ways you can stay engaged and encouraged by God’s call on your life, even as you wait on him.
Speak, speak, speak.
One of the things that really helped me as I waited on God was taking every speaking opportunity ever given to me. I can honestly say that I didn’t turn one down. Even when the venue was less than adequate or if the people seemed a bit strange or the drive a bit long, or what have you, I didn’t say no because I knew that, regardless of the situation, whatever transpired would go a long way in my development as a speaker and communicator. I was fortunate enough to have many opportunities to speak to many different age groups and in many different venues. Each one presented its own set of unique challenges. But through it all, God was preparing me and seeking to mold me into a better communicator. And there’s no better way to get better at speaking than to speak. That’s sort of the catch-22 of it all, right? What comes first, the skill or the experience? Regardless of your situation or circumstance, make a point to never turn down a speaking engagement. You never know what will come out of it.
Read, read, read.
Another thing, though, that really helped me as God prepared me for ministry was to read and read, and read some more. I’ve become slightly obsessed with reading, perhaps, even though I don’t get as much time to read as I’d like. I began pouring over historical works by the likes of Bonar, Winslow, Spurgeon, Calvin, Bunyan, Luther, and others. Their way with words was remarkably profound. I picked up many modern books, too, like Capon, Bonhoeffer, Lewis, Chandler, Tchividjian, Tripp, and Wilson. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing the ways that these writers say essentially the same things as those before them, just in slightly different ways. If you’re ever stuck or frustrated, feeling in a rut emotionally, reading is a superb way to be reminded of the grandiose gospel that is your hope. It can stir new thoughts and new ideas that stoke the flames of belief and repentance once again. More often than not, spiritual doldrums are a result of not engaging God’s Word enough and not reading enough.
Write, write, write.
A new passion for reading naturally developed into a new passion for writing. For me, reading was the best way to get inspired and introduced to new ideas and interpretations of particular themes and passages in Scripture. The more I read, the more I realized that I had something to say as well. I wanted to share that message with whoever would listen. And in the interim between work and ministry, blogging was a natural resource. Blogging and writing became a therapeutic exercise for me. It became a spiritual and theological catharsis for me as the Spirit enlightened and enriched me in his Word. And while I enjoy writing and publishing a piece and seeing you read it, the real benefit is for me. This blog is as much for my own enrichment as it is for yours. That might seem the height of selfishness but as I am inspired to write and work through a text of Scripture or truth about God and his gospel, the work is being done on me. My wife might say, now, that I’m addicted to writing. I enjoy the experience of putting down words in creative ways that exalt the glory and majesty of our Savior. Aspiring pastors should engage in the art of writing. As my friend Obbie Todd once wrote: “Good writing at the desk fuels good delivery behind the pulpit.”
Pray, pray, pray.
Of course, the best advice I can give any young man eager to enter the ministry is to pray. I’ll confess that I wasn’t often the best practitioner of this advice, as there would be times I’d forget or neglect to bear my soul before God. But praying is the best way in which we not only learn about ourselves but learn about God. In opening up our sinful soul before a holy God, we learn all the ways in which he deals with unholy people. And this is the truest character of our Lord. We understand more about him by how he deals with sinners than with saints, for in his dealings, we find nothing but grace. Prayer is the greatest benefit and privilege ever given to the believer. As church father John Chrysostom has said:
Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mind which never is exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a haven unruffled by the storm; it is the root of the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings . . . Prayer is a haven to the shipwrecked mariner, an anchor unto them that are sinking in the waves, a staff to the limbs that totter, a mine of jewels to the poor, a security to the rich, a healer of disease, and a guardian of health. Prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities. (88)
And so it is that I’m praying for you, young minister, for God to continue to use his chisel on you in preparation for ministry. I am praying that God’s will will be made manifest to you and that his gospel will quell your trepidation and inspire your passion. Don’t be deceived. He’ll never let you go. No matter how dark or how unseen the hand of God may be, God is always working and in faith, we can look up to him. God is with you. God is for you.
John Chrysostom, The Local Preacher’s Journal (London: T. Ward & Co., 1842).