And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Counseling Ministers Who are Ready to Quit Part 4

Fellow Ministers,
If the saints are called to persevere, how much more the sheperds of the sheep?  Ministry is one of the most soul wrenching vocations that a person can faithfully engage in. For the sake of editing, I aam presenting in this blog over the next several days a portion of a paper I have written for my course of training and education in Biblical Counseling.  It is my hope that if you are strugling, your reading of the words within would stir your heart to press on.  Should you desire to work through the homework that I have created to go along with this paper, you may email me at

Persevering Hope in Ministry

The aforementioned symptoms of the heart; burnout, depression, pride, guilt, motivation, self-esteem, stress, and anger are all clear areas in need of putting off the ways of the flesh.  Biblical counselors can give the minister contemplating the end of their ministry great hope in the multitude of encouragements from scripture.  Thus, to walk redemptively with this person by helping to recognize their condition biblically and to assist through wise counsel to put off pride and put on humility before God, hope can be restored.  Henceforth, a wise counselor will not only correct sin in a minister’s life, but will also equip them with reasons to press on.

Perseverance in ministry is one doctrine that all ministers need to spend a great deal of time understanding if they are to maintain a zeal for their calling.  The Bible proclaims that ministers have a sure reward (Luke 12:37, 12:48; Matt 25:14-46).  Often pastors encourage the church body with the doctrine of perseverance of the saints as it relates to eternal security.  However, there is much to be said for that same security working in the present as the saints abide in Christ to do His will.  When ministers are challenged to quit, the Bible speaks to persevere.  Much of the New Testament was written for the saints to persevere.  A close inspection of the Pauline letters will find direct encouragement for ministers specifically to not give up (1 Tim; 2 Tim; Heb). Thus in counseling ministers, the counselor must not only point out the sins of quitting but also the great provision and joy in carrying on.  The counselor would be well served to have a strong working knowledge of the multitudes of saints in history that persevered despite adverse circumstances.  Men such as John Bunyan, David Brainard, and Martin Luther are just a few of the many who have endured hardships for the sake of the gospel.  Their stories of physical ailments, poverty, imprisonment, and threat of physical harm and death are quite relevant to what ministers face today.

Several verses of Scripture are written to give hope in times of burnout, stress, depression, guilt, and self-esteem.  God by His grace has already provided the church with these Scriptures as a means to combatting the trials of ministry.

First Timothy 4:16 is written, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  This is a pastoral warning for Timothy and for all Christians not to allow themselves to become distracted by busywork, a leading factor in burnout.  Too often the ministry of the pastorate takes on many good projects and can become sidetracked from its true purpose. Again, a fear of man may promote a pastor to constantly please people. This wears him out spiritually.  God illustrates the imperative that ministers stay at the task of abiding in what the Scripture teaches.  The promise contained in this wisdom is that by doing so the ministers are actually ‘saving yourself and your hearers.”  Thus a major factor in ministry is to first and foremost remain grounded in the truth of Scripture.  As it says in John 15:4, the abiding in Christ by the word of God is the Father’s means of sustaining the minister through the needs of ministry.  Ministers are a conduit through which God dispenses His revelation.  The minister who pours out becomes empty.   They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit.  Pastors who neglect prayer and personal devotions are more likely to contemplate leaving.  The discouraged pastor needs prayer and scriptural truth as a famished man needs food and water. It is through the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that the minister is restored to joyfully serving, not by the counselor.

The Bible directly addresses the burden of work that ministers carry.  Many take on too much work and then despair.  In fact, the problem seems to be articulated by the scriptural statement of first Timothy 4:16, in which the shepherd should first abide in the teaching of the Word of God and let that determine what is to be taken on as ministry.  When the pressures of the ministerial position do strike, one can find solstice: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).  Thus, the pastor needs to order his life to the plans of God rather than a self-imposed “vision.”  The minister needs to realize that God only puts on him a specific set of demands.  It is the abiding in the Word and in prayer that helps the minister determine what is to be done and what is to be excluded.  When seasons come that require much of the minister, they can be assured that God also provides much for the day at hand.  This principle is illustrated in the story of God providing manna and quail to those who wandered the wilderness in the exodus from Egypt.

Paul counseled Timothy by being an example to him: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10). Just as the book of Hebrews illustrates the roll call of faith, Christians can know that there is good reason to persevere.  The goal is not to build one’s own kingdom or ministry, but to proclaim the very Kingdom of God.  When a child of God endures, it is often for the strengthening for others.  This is the idea behind building each other up in love.  A shepherd who loves his flock is willing to take on hardship that they might not have to, and that they may have a personal example of someone who is denying self, taking up the cross, and following Jesus.  If a minister were to choose to fall away, how much easier would it be for others to excuse themselves in their own shortcomings?  Ministers need to realize the precarious position they are called to.  Many find strength in the perseverance of the pastor.  The endurance of the hardships of ministry shows how infinitely valuable the relationship of man to God is through the cross.  It illustrates that the kingdom of God truly is a pearl of great price.

Ministers can find biblical hope even though trials will come, and should be expected, yet they are a means of God’s blessing.  Early on in His ministry, Jesus preached to this truth:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matt 5:10-12) 

The minister who is personally offended, maligned, and wronged can know that they are in good company.  This treatment can actually be a sign of participation in the true Kingdom.

Paul writes in Romans,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:28-31) 

Romans 8:28-31 is one of the single most quoted verses in times of trouble for the sheep and needs to be personally applied and taken to heart by the destitute minister.  It would behoove the minister to walk step by step through the promises in this passage of assurance.  When the minister is looking at his problems from inside the storm, the Bible shows the truth of the situation.  May those who are under the call of God learn to count it all joy, that suffering is actually making them more like Jesus.  In counseling the minister, help him to regain a hope that what is going on is actually meant for good.  Help him embrace the truth that God is demonstrating love through this experience.

In trials and desperation, a minster will want to know “what to do?”  The book of James begins with great council on how to actively wait upon God in the variety of circumstances that befall those who are called to shepherd: 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (Jas 1:2-5)

As in Romans 8, trials are for refinement and are meant for betterment.  The minister needs to be given hope that they can still seek God for wisdom to handle the situations at hand.  However, often the advice to the minister needs to hear is to be steadfast.  Quitting the ministry is the anti-resolve to persevere.  Thus, the minister who feels ill-equipped needs a renewal of understanding the magnitude and sufficiency of God for their life.  Problems are bound to come, but through the experiences of ministry, the counselee can have hope to mature and meet the future with different results.  The equipping of the minister to renew the way the mind looks at ministry from a biblical perspective, rather than a world imposed mold, can result in exponential blessings.  As many ministers feel lonely and isolated, a minister who has renewed joy in the Lord can be a vital asset to those in ministry who are secretly struggling.  Part of the hope in the counseling process is to help the minister see how he can benefit others. Once renewed, the shepherd of one flock is able to testify to other shepherds of how God has worked faithfully even when they have not been so faithful. 

One of the most encouraging books of the Bible for a despairing minister is the book of Philippians.  Authored by Paul, the letter is written to encourage the church at Philippi.  What makes it remarkable is how joyful he is in ministry, even though writing from prison.  In absolutely deplorable conditions, and with little reason to be encouraged, Paul is overwhelmingly at peace.  The application for every minister ought to be the same.  No matter what the circumstances, Christ is the source of peace and joy. As a matter of fact, his trials produced a God-glorifying resolve that all can have.  Without these trials, he may never have grown to the maturity that had such joy.  His suffering was of great benefit to the church.  Counselors need to help the counselee realize the eternal benefits of Paul’s temporary inconveniences.

The letter outlines his experiences, hardships, and God’s presence.  Philippians is also famous for its admonitions “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21), “have this mind among yourselves” (Phil 2:5), “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:7), and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).  The entire book is rife with reasons to not give up. Because of this, it is the central text for this papers’ compendium homework exercise assignment.

The ministry of Paul gives one other example that must never be forgotten.  His ministry experience is known to have a “thorn in the flesh” situation.  In 2 Corinthians 12, the church reads of how he was given a “messenger of Satan” to keep him from boasting.  There is no need not know what his problem was exactly[bjf1] , just as all ministers may face problems that also do not go away..[1]  The anonymity of the thorn in the flesh lends an opportunity to say that whatever the problem one is faced with, God is in control.  What a person can know is that it was to remain and be dealt with continually, much as the problems faced in ministry today.  Hope was given, however, in the promise of God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  And Paul responds, “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 Cor 12:9-10).  As counsel is made unto the despondent minister, encourage them that the great hardship they face may very well be the key to unlocking the effectiveness of the ministry at hand.

[1]Some have speculated this to be either a physical ailment, an opposition to the Gospel, and others allude it may be a deacon of their own.


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