As a pastor for 33 years, I’ve experienced the ups and downs ministry brings. Sometimes it seems like I’m on an emotional high after a baptism service, a breakthrough elders’ meeting, or a powerful worship service. Other times I’ve had to battle thoughts of giving up when I receive several critical emails in one week, a staff member is consistently underperforming and I need to confront him, or when it seems like the ministry has hit a lid. However, I believe one thing makes a pastor’s job most joyful. See if you agree.
In the most intimate of the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters, Philippians, he gives us a clue to what can make a pastor’s job most joyful. He writes this phrase in Philippians 2.16 … in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
William Barclay explains the meaning of this verse when he says that Paul uses a term for an athlete who trains. No athlete wants his training to fail. He wants to win the race for which he’s training. So, Paul prays that he may not be like an athlete whose training and effort have gone for nothing. For him the greatest prize in life was to know that through him others had come to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ. [Barclay, W. (Ed.). (1975). The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (electronic ed., pp. 45–46). Philadelphia: The Westminster John Knox Press.]
In other words, when Paul came to the end of his life, he would not want his sacrifice and service to have been a waste. He is telling the church at Philippi that they bring him the greatest joy when they love God and love others well.
When Christians truly love God and others, it minimizes crabbiness, critical spirits, and nitpicky preferences. It prompts believers to willing give of their time, talent, and treasures. More people extend grace when things don’t go their way in the church. And, by the way, the opposite should hold true as well. When we pastors love God and love others well, we extend those same graces to people in our churches.
So how can we encourage our church to make our job joyful and in doing so fulfill Hebrews 13. 17 which says, Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery? (Message) Consider these suggestions.
1. Model the behavior and attitude you hope those in your church will live out. We can’t live by another standard. Neither can we expect others to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves.
2. At appropriate times (not when you’re mad at somebody), include this concept in your teaching and preaching. I recently taught Philippians 2 which made it natural to broach the topic.
3. Tell stories of church people who live out godly character and conduct. People emulate what you publicly honor.
4. Thank people when they live out the values that bring you joy. Express it privately and publicly.
What has brought you the greatest joy in ministry? How can you encourage church people to do it more, without becoming self-serving?