The Anxiety of Ministry

We were in the middle of our 14-hour trek across this West African road when our missionary asked the question.  Since I was the biggest guy on our excursion, I was nestled down in the old Toyota truck back seat while the rest of our team sat against me or on top of me.  To deal with the heat, we had the windows rolled down, but the dirt and sand continued to fill the stifling back seat.  We hadn’t showered in days, and our daily ritual was full of walking miles across the desert and finding some piece of earth on which to sleep.  One of our guys was making tuna sandwiches as we drove because it really wasn’t the best idea for us to stop anywhere.

Tucked somewhere within the mass of humanity and bags, the missionary who lived asked:

“So what is the hardest thing about being a pastor in America?”

At that moment, I thought it was the most ridiculous question I had ever heard.

Here we were in grueling conditions, and he wanted to ask what was hard about my job.

I replied, “I guess it is when you exhaust yourself caring for people, sharing the gospel, discipling people, counseling people, doing a bunch of unseen tasks, and then experience people getting upset over the most trivial of things.  Sometimes you feel like you are being stoned with spitballs.  But I know that isn’t that big of a deal compared to what you deal with.”

He replied, “No, I couldn’t handle that.  I’d end up hurting somebody.”

We laughed and continued the conversation, but it was an important moment for me.  I realized that regardless of what the ministry context is, it is hard.  There are complexities about what people in ministry do.

The Last on the List

I’ve heard people say that ministry is the hardest job in the world.  I’m not going to say that.  I’ve only had this full-time job and only experienced what it entails.  There are challenges, for sure.

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to troubles in ministry.  In 2 Corinthians 11, he shared some of the difficulties that he experienced.  When I read his list, I feel like a whiner when I think about the things that rattle me.  Here is his list:

  1. Far greater labors
  2. Far greater imprisonments
  3. Countless beatings
  4. Often near death
  5. Five times received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes minus one (40 lashes would kill a man)
  6. Three times beaten with rods
  7. Stoned
  8. Shipwrecked three times
  9. Adrift at sea for a night and day
  10. Frequent journeys
  11. Danger from rivers
  12. Danger from robbers
  13. Danger from his own people
  14. Danger from Gentiles
  15. Danger in the city
  16. Danger in the wilderness
  17. Danger at sea
  18. Danger from false brothers
  19. In toil and hardship
  20. Many sleepless nights
  21. In hunger and thirst
  22. Often without food
  23. In cold and exposure

When you look at this list of 23 things Paul endured, you have to wonder if anything could be more intense than what he experienced.  And yet, he added one more to the list as a dramatic conclusion.  The entire list seems to be working towards one issue that stressed out more than the previous 23.

Out of all the circumstances Paul endured, none was greater than his daily anxiety for churches (2 Cor. 11:28).

The fact that it is last on that list is very telling.  There is a unique challenge to leading those in a church.  The concern for a group of people can be all-encompassing.  It doesn’t leave when you clock out (if and when that actually happens).

How to Cope with Ministry Anxiety

So, what was his response?  Read the Bible more?  Pray more?  Get an accountability partner?  Here was his response:

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.  -2 Corinthians 11:30-31

He admitted his weakness.  He can’t do it all.  He needs the One who is blessed forever, not just blessed when ministry is going his way.

He goes on to say:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

If you serve in a ministry capacity today and feel overwhelmed, I have something for you to hold onto today: the grace of God.  It is sufficient.  His power is best displayed in your weakness.  Getting stoned with rocks or spitballs isn’t fun, but it is far worse to try to do ministry in your own strength.

Rely on the grace of God and his power to change your church.  Don’t settle for what you can do.

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