How to Keep Investing in Ministry Even When the Results Are Scarce

What you are doing matters, even when fruit appears to be scarce.

by Scott Sauls

When I was in seminary, one of the professors told us aspiring pastors that we should never expect to have close friends in the churches we lead. It is always best, the professor said, to seek out friendships with people who are not part of our church families.

Having now served for 18 years in pastoral ministry, I resist the professor’s advice. I can safely say that my closest friends are from the church I serve as pastor, and they have been in previous churches as well.

Yet from a practical and experiential standpoint, I understand why the professor would advise us in this way. In every church we have served, my wife and I have experienced rejection from people who had, for a time, been our close friends. Sometimes the breakup occurred because I, as pastor, was not doing enough to give these friends the kind of church they wanted—a better youth or children’s ministry, different music, a different style of preaching, or a different vision than what I was offering to them. At other times, the breakup happened because of a false narrative about me, gossip and mischaracterizations that put me in a negative light. And, at still other times, a breakup would happen because of some real flaw or shortcoming in me that friends decided they didn’t want to deal with anymore.

I have known the pain of broken friendships in the church. Stick around for any length of time and you will too, if you haven’t already. There likely will be other letdowns as well.

In spite of our best efforts and most faithful prayers and shepherding and preaching, the popular church down the street still attracts some of our members. In spite of the comprehensive, compassionate, and costly care given to a hurting church member, he says he feels uncared for by the church and then leaves in a huff. In spite of counseling a couple for two years in hopes that their struggling marriage will heal, they get a divorce.

In spite of putting hours of study and preparation into preaching, three emails arrive on Monday telling you how disappointing, offensive, or theologically imprecise your sermon was. In spite of putting in your best effort to craft worship services that artfully draw people into the presence of God, the varied criticisms still come: the liturgy is too formal and too informal; the music is too upbeat and too mellow; the song selection is too contemporary and too traditional; the people are not welcoming enough and too invasive.

In spite of spending countless hours of prayer that God would bring revival and renewal to your church, it remains stunted in its growth, mundane in its ministry, lukewarm in its love, invisible in its impact, and held back by the demands and drama of its most narcissistic and divisive members.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today: Pastors