They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
1 Corinthians 4:3-4
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
One of the things I have struggled with throughout my ministry life is the feeling of living in the shadows and being unrecognized. I have often felt that all of the recognition went to the pastors of large churches or to “successful” church planters who could boast of extraordinary growth. As the pastor of a mid-sized church that experienced moderate growth, I often felt ignored. I rarely saw pastors in my situation asked to speak at denominational conferences or pointed to as examples of faithful service. I often came away from conferences feeling beat up and more discouraged than when I arrived. Then one day, I realized that I was standing in a shadow of my own making.
Pastors are notoriously susceptible to two major spiritual pitfalls; comparing themselves and their ministry to others, and feeling a lack of affirmation. I confess that I have fallen into both; and on more than one occasion. Pastoral ministry is demanding and often draining. There are so few tangible indicators of how we are doing that we grab ahold of whatever we can. That usually leads to an obsession with numbers. Worship attendance, number of baptisms, number of programs, number of hours spent in ministry all become focal points. Of course, numbers always lead to comparisons. How do my numbers stack up against other pastors’ numbers? A focus on numbers is a double-edged sword. Numbers are an important indicator of what is happening, but, given too high a priority, they lead us into the dangerous game of comparison and competition.
The fuel that drives our competitive spirit is the desire for recognition and praise. Subtly we are looking for the praise of men to affirm our value and worth. Jesus made it very clear that when we seek the praise of men we are focused in the wrong direction. In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5-7, Jesus didn’t soften His words when it came to seeking the affirmation of others. "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) Jesus made His point very clear as He went on to address the issues of giving, fasting, and praying. When we do these important acts with the intention of gaining the praise of people, we take away their real value.
I have often heard it said that in our worship and in our acts of service we need to play to an audience of one. That one being Christ alone. Hebrews makes it clear that our focus needs to be squarely on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3) This passage highlights one of the key issues related to our spiritual journey. If we focus on other people, we will grow weary and lose heart. I can attest to that from firsthand experience. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will not grow weary and lose heart.
Weariness is a major issue for all Christians, but especially for pastors. Most often our progress seems slow and arduous. It is easy to become discouraged. The more that we succumb to the comparison game, the more discouraged we will become. To combat weariness, we need to keep the long view in mind. Just like to farmer who plants seeds in the ground and then has to wait for the harvest, so we need to cultivate spiritual patience.
Genuine faithfulness will always be rewarded by God. Jesus made that clear in Matthew 24:45-47. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
In a past century, a faithful missionary couple returned home to America after a lifetime of service on the foreign field. As their ship docked and the gangplank was lowered to the platform, they watched as a brass band began to play, welcoming their arrival. Soon a group of prominent men descended the gangway to the cheers of an assembled crowd. As they made their way into the terminal, the platform emptied, leaving the missionary couple to disembark unnoticed. The husband turned to his wife very discouraged. “We have faithfully served our Lord most of our life. Yet, no one seems to notice or care.” The wife smiled at her husband. “Dear, that is because we are not yet home.”
Many of us stand is a shadow of our own making. We desire affirmation and recognition, and when it does not come, we get discouraged. We need to remember that God is not ignorant of our service. We will reap our reward, if we remain faithful.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.