Three Ways Pastors Can Endure
(50 Years Later)
By Neil Earle
Why, even I had to blink twice upon remembrance.
Has it really been fifty years? Was it really 50 years ago that the Dean of Students called me into his office at Ambassador College, Bricket Wood just north of London – a Bible school and training ground within the framework of a liberal arts college.
I had had a pretty good start my Freshman year, stumbled badly my sophomore year and was now enjoying my third year as editor of the campus paper, The Portfolio. Circling in on a career in journalism, I was dumbfounded when the Dean told me “Today we assigned you to the Visiting Program,” which meant I could be assisting on ministerial counseling across the United Kingdom.
Then the shocker: “And we’re putting you on the sermonette list as well.”
OK – that did it. That’s when I date my effective call to ministry. To be selected to give short sermons was a sure sign the faculty had seen you eventually on the way to pastoral ministry – something most of us student desired but wouldn’t dare speak about.
The God of Tender Mercy
I left the Dean’s office in a sort of daze and betook myself to the beautiful Japanese Gardens in the early March twilight, feeling overwhelmed with positive emotion. It was a marker event. I literally thought of the old hymn “In the Garden” and that Christ was closer to me that evening than many times before and since.
I was the first of my class to be so selected which made it even more striking after the mistakes and slip-ups of just one year before. Psalm 63:3 has been a life-saver ever since: “His loving-kindness is better than life.”
This was the clear-cut call to ministry even like the calling to take Christianity seriously that I had experienced 6 years before after hearing a quasi-fundamentalist preacher on the radio laying down in no uncertain terms that the Creator God expected us to take him seriously.
Blunders before and blunders since and blunders now but – “where sin abounds grace does much more abound.” This is a promise and a gift I try to pass on to my students in Church History class.
The Three Essentials
Over the years I’ve expounded on three essentials of ministry ever pastor or Christian worker will need in order to survive the long life-time trek dealing with people who can be very obstinate and hurtful to the point of deterring you from your calling.
First, strong – and I mean strong – sense of Calling. You have to know in your heart of hearts that it is Christ himself who called you to his service. John 15:16 has to be tattooed upon your heart in no uncertain terms: “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain…”
The hazards and obstacles and your own plethora of mistakes can so undermine your confidence in Calling that a good percentage of pastors these days feel like dropping out – many do! So some kind of Damascus Road experience – if even in miniature has to be part of your internal spiritual resume. St. Paul told the bloodthirsty Jerusalem mob how it was with him: “Now it happened as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around about me” (Acts 22:6). Every Pastor knows the rest. That great sense of calling has to be as ironclad as humans can make it. Else you will never endure the slings and arrows of opposition and persecution.
Secondly, an inordinate almost inhuman love for the brethren. “Love never fails” Paul wrote and any man or women feeling called to ministry will stick with it when he or she can look out over his flock or sit back and contemplate the wonderfully humble, calm, kind and trusting people God had brought into their lives. They are his best human support when the going gets tough.
The third almost goes without saying. It is resilience, the ability to bounce back when you shouldn’t, the inner strength based on an outward upper conviction that allows you to see a greater purpose than the present distress. This has been expounded enough already but we have to remember: no one said it would be easy. “Take up the cross” is the starting point and the so-called joy of promotion of one’s ministry is often a crown of thorns. But the love of the brethren and the love of God and the fruits seen and demonstrated are enough to keep pastors on the royal road and bring their people with them if the Lord allows.
One of my bosses said, the minster life is abnormal with periods of normality – the reverse of everyone else’s. Now there was a man who knew his Calling.
Regrets? Tons of them. Ever wonder if you should have been doing something else? Yes – more than once. But if the road may be steep and sometimes jagged the View that comes more and more into sight is more and more worth it.
I don’t share those reminiscences to set myself up as any example. Frankly I need a column for this web site which 1200 of you tune into every month. But take my word for it, ministry is a calling that has to start with some kind of authentic experience or at least a steadily dawning commitment. And then you will know you are where you were supposed to be.
Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.