My wife and I just celebrated our 50th year of pastoral ministry. It was in the same church where we began pastoring just four years into our marriage. I have been asked, “What is the key to longevity in ministry?” There are many factors, but one of the most important is having joy in pastoring.
Pastoral ministry is hard work with many hardships, disappointments, and reasons to quit. It is easy to get caught up with all the negativity in ministry, and unfortunately, some pastors get more than their share of difficult times. But it is also good for pastors and their families to look at the positive side of ministry and consider the joys that come with it.
In five decades of ministry, we have experienced ups and downs but never lost the joy of ministering to God’s flock. We have experienced certain joys that others in different vocations may not experience. Let me share some of these to encourage your hearts as you shepherd God’s flock.
The joy in the privilege of pastoring
We must remember that we have a special calling from the Lord. He has called us “to shepherd the flock of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). He does not call every man to this vocation. Not every man has the privilege of holding the office of pastor. He reserves it for those whom He calls and those who are qualified (I Timothy 3:1-7). We can only be thankful for this awesome privilege when we consider such a high and holy calling that God has uniquely placed upon us. We echo the sentiments of the Apostle Paul, who said of his calling, “I thank Christ Jesus my Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (I Tim. 1:12). His joy came from the fact that despite all his sinful deeds and unworthiness to be called an apostle, God placed him in ministry.
The saying goes that if you enjoy your work, you will never work a day in your life. That phrase describes my ministry. I am so thankful to God for the joy of participating in the work of God, where I do the planting and the watering. Still, He gives the increase (I Cor. 3:7). I am so thankful to be a simple coworker with God (I Cor. 3:9). Our attitude as ministers need not be, “I have to go to work,” but rather “I get to be the pastor of God’s flock.” What a joy that should bring into our hearts and lives. Pastor, consider the privilege you have to shepherd His flock.
The joy of preaching the word of God
As a pastor, I also enjoy the wonderful task of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Our calling as pastors includes the job description of communicating God’s Word to His people. This comes with a two-fold joy. First, there’s the joy of reading and studying His Word. In seminary, I paid to have godly men teach me the mechanics of how to study and present God’s word to the people of God. Now the church pays me to spend time reading, studying, and preparing sermons and lessons for them. What can be more joyful? A man of God should love the Word of God. As pastors, we have an opportunity most men do not have – to spend hours digging through the rich veins of Scripture, uncovering the truths we touched in seminary, and drawing close to our Lord as He speaks to us in His Word. We cannot help but experience the same joy the Emmaus disciples did when they heard the Word explained to them. So they uttered: “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:33). Some pastors speak of the “tyranny of the sermon,” as if to say that it is an endless toil to come up with something to preach. When the exposition of Scripture is your method of preaching, the sermons grow as you read and then beg you to preach them. The more you study, the greater your joy in His Word and the more there is to say about it.
The second joy is that of preaching. It is my persuasion that if God has called you to pastor, He has also gifted you to preach. Homiletics hones the gift. Preaching the word of God is the greatest joy a preacher can ever have. I thoroughly enjoy preaching. Preaching is a joyous event where the pastor has the privilege of communicating the message of God to the people of God for their salvation and sanctification. Hence, the pastor lives with the joyous anticipation of the Lord’s day, when he will preach his heart out as he delivers God’s message. It matters little if you preach to a dozen or hundreds. The joy is that we get to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) for the joy of presenting “every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
The joy of transformed lives
Some say we should not look for results in our labors but be faithful and leave the results to God. In the big picture, that is true, but in the everyday ministry, we need to look for results in our labors, for even “the plowman ought to plow in hope” (I Cor. 9:11). The Book of Acts records how the church grew numerically and spiritually. It also encouraged the church, illustrating the power of God’s Spirit in the spread of the Gospel and growth of the church (Acts 1:8). We, too, should look to find joy and encouragement in the fruit of our labors. One of the greatest joys, if not the greatest, is the salvation of souls through preaching the Gospel. If we were to lead one soul to Christ during our ministry, it would be worth all the effort. How much more when you have the privilege to see scores of sinners snatched from hell by the saving grace of Christ? I learned early on that the salvation of souls is our highest calling as ministers. I look for God to bless His Word in leading souls to Himself. One soul saved and baptized brings me the greatest joy in ministry. I tell our church that seeing one convert to Christ fuels me for the rest of the year. Someone said, “If you have lost the joy of ministry, go soul winning and lead a soul to Christ, and your life will be filled with joy” (see John 4:24-38).
We can also rejoice in the impact of the ministry on the people of God. The advantage of pastoring is that we can see the believer’s growth in the years of ministry. Almost every letter of the apostles references the joy of seeing the believers’ growth in their faith. Paul rejoices over the Thessalonian believers, not only for the manner of their reception of the Gospel but also for their growth in faith and ministry (I Thess. 1:2-10). Just as a parent finds joy in the growth and development of their children, so do pastors find joy in the spiritual growth of the people that sit under their ministry. We do not want to lose sight of how our ministry impacts the church. The words of the apostle John should encourage us to find joy in the fruit of our ministry when he writes, “For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is how you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 3-4). Forget about the church with hundreds in attendance down the street and focus on the individual saints you shepherd. Rejoice in their growth in love for Christ and for one another.
Go ahead and count your sheep to see how many have come to Christ and how they are walking in the truth. Then have yourself a joyous celebration.
The joy of a church family
Another source of great joy in pastoring is delighting in the people of God. Some church environments discourage pastors from getting too familiar or involved with their congregations, teaching their pastors not to make close friends or open up to church members. Although we can see some dangers in becoming too close to the members of the flock, those dangers exist even in members of our family and extended family. Such a concept contradicts the whole idea and makeup of the “family of God.” Early in our ministry, my wife and I learned that we were not just “professional” ministers uninvolved in our congregants’ lives. We also learned that we could not live two lives – one as the “pastoral family” and the other with our relationships exclusively outside the church. The church became our family.
This is a source of great joy for us. Our church is our family. We enter into their lives and theirs into ours. We love them, and they love us. We look forward to “going to church” to be with our family. Some say our church resembles a large family, not just a church gathering. That is precisely what I want it to be, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ, spiritual mothers and fathers in the congregation (Titus 2:1-6). We endeavor to love all our members the same and work hard at making them feel a part of our family. In turn, we have experienced a love from them that is hard to explain but sweet to share. Our joy in ministry comes from experiencing worship with our people, participating in social events, and interacting with them whenever possible. Most Sundays, we are among the last to leave the church, not because we are closing up the building (our deacons do that) but because we are fellowshipping with our “family.”
We have come to appreciate how Paul felt about the churches he started. He felt a special love for them and experienced joy in his relationship with them. In writing to the Thessalonians, he remarked that he was very eager to see them face to face, and then he adds, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (I Thess. 2:17, 19-20). He felt the same way about the Philippian church, saying, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). Paul took particular joy in the people of God, and so should we. We have noticed that the longer we have pastored the church, the more we have grown to love the church, and the deeper our joy has become. This has made the five decades of ministry a sweet and joyous journey.
The joy of impacting the world
Pastoring a church can open a whole new world of ministry that brings a certain joy to ministry. Since most pastors minister in small churches, it can become difficult to move beyond the world of a small church and the struggles that come with it. But even pastoring a small church can bring unique joys. Through pastoring, I have learned about the world of foreign mission and have had contact with missionaries serving around the world. By becoming part of their ministries through prayer and financial support, we participate in reaching the world for Christ.
Their success becomes ours as well. When they rejoice, so do we. Invitations to their fields have brought us the joy of seeing believers in other countries, sharing in their churches, evangelizing their nations, and participating in their lives. Pastors can have a worldwide impact through a small church, and what a joy that can bring! This could only happen while pastoring.
The joy of pastoral friendships
Along the same line, the joy of developing friendships with other pastors in our cities and beyond can be just as rewarding. Some of these pastors have become our closest friends. Here is excellent motivation to become involved in your pastor’s association or to join a group of pastors who meet for fellowship, prayer, and mutual activities. Pastoring can be lonely, and we need to cultivate friendships among our peers who can relate to our problems and even minister to us in an hour of need. I have enjoyed mountain biking, hiking mountains and canyons, attending pastor’s conferences, and even having lunch with my pastor friends. This is a joy that comes from pastoring.
They say there are two ways to look at a glass with a measure of water in it. It can be half empty, with so much water missing. Or it can be half full, with so much water in it. The same can be true in pastoring. We can focus on what is challenging and difficult, on all that we have sacrificed and given up, and lose the joy of ministry. Or we can look at all the great things that come through pastoring and rejoice that God has given us so much as we shepherd the church that He bought with His own blood. Pastor and pastoral family, may these joys of pastoring bring joy to you as you serve in an incredible vocation – as shepherds of God’s flock (cp. I Peter 5:1-4).
@2023 Alex Montoya. Used with permission.