For Pastors Who Struggle to Believe that Their Ministry is Making a Difference

1. The Impact We Crave

Hello, fellow pastor. 

Do you ever struggle to believe that your ministry is making any difference? I do.

Does your emotional fullness meter ebb and flow with Sunday attendance? More often than I'd like to admit.

Do you spend hours and hours and hours on sermon preparation, expectantly waiting for that moment of delivery when the crowds to show up to savor the feast and gather around you after the preaching event to let you know how deeply they were impacted with your message... only to have no one--not even one--give any hint that any words you spoke landed upon their hearts and minds? 

Even if 1% respond with a word of affirmation, does your mind focus on the 99% that seem unaffected? 

Do you scan social media on Sunday afternoon hoping to see someone sharing the inspirational main point of your morning message? 

You check Facebook. Nothing

Instagram. Nada.

Twitter. Total and complete radio silence

The only person posting and sharing links to your sermon is... you. Or in my case, me.

Is my ministry making any real difference in the Kingdom of God? Where are the amen's? Where is the applause?

Maybe my impact would be more discernible if only I had a larger audience. If only I were in a bigger place. If only we had better facilities. 

Ugh. I makes me sick to confess these thoughts.  Oh, and it gets worse. The flesh of a pastor is a dark, self-glorifying, sinful force. Of course, it is for every human. Pastors are no exception. This is why we preach Jesus and not ourselves.

"Do you ever struggle to believe that your ministry is making any difference?"

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2. A Moment of Sanity

In a moment of spiritual sanity, we repent of making our ministry about us and not Jesus. Confessing desires for greater things, we remember that Jesus took the lowest place, not the highest -- and his impact was relatively significant. 🙂 He ministered in a small place, not an urban center. 

We remember that the Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows underground and takes a LONG time to burst through the soil. Even then, an acorn requires years and years and years before it becomes full grown. 

The thing about seeds growing into trees is that you can't see them grow -- at any stage. Stare for as long as you like, but unless you hook up a camera to capture a time-lapse video, you will never notice any change in the moment. In fact, when the leaves fall off of our ministry tree every year, it will feel like going backwards into dormancy. 

"The kingdom is like a tiny seed that grows underground and takes a LONG time to burst through the soil. Even then, an acorn requires years and years and years before it becomes full grown."

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3. A New Metaphor

If your ministry feels dormant, I want to propose a different image for you to consider regarding the impact of your ministry. 

Not a tree, but a vine

I'm no horticulturalist, but I do have a hillside by my house that is becoming covered with vine. Little by little, every year the influence of the vine spreads, not upward but outward. Stealth growth. Nobody notices. But it is growing, expanding, off the radar. 

I think the vast majority of pastoral ministry is like that. Not tree growth but vine growth. 

"I think the vast majority of pastoral ministry is like that. Not tree growth but vine growth."

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That actually is a biblical image of the church. A vineyard. 

I live in the north Georgia wine country and have learned that you don't start a winery overnight. It takes years of attention to a small number of plants that seem to make little to no progress.

But over time. Eventually. Grapes begin to appear. 

The sap in the vine was at work all along, even though we couldn't see it

"The sap in the vine was at work all along, even though we couldn't see it."

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4. No Little Places, No Little Pastors

Francis Schaeffer preached a sermon entitled, "No Little People, No Little Places." 

That is a message for us pastors. There really are not little places in the Kingdom of God, and no little pastors. We have been given vine work to do as assistants to the Master Gardener, whose greatest work is often underground the surface where no one can see. 

"There really are not little places in the Kingdom of God, and no little pastors."

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Now and then, a sprig will emerge from the soil to confirm that the Spirit is not dormant but doing things in God's ways, not in Western, 21st century ways. 

The work of God often extends outward and slowly rather than upward and quickly so that we are not as tempted to steal the glory of God's work for ourselves. 

When the Kingdom seems to burst and bloom, we give thanks that the Lord has allowed someone with much greater humility to oversee such rapid growth. 

"We have been given vine work to do as assistants to the Master Gardener, whose greatest work is often underground the surface where no one can see."

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5. The Pastor's Primary Work

Pastor, maybe we need to remember that our primary work is not to focus on the vine work God is doing in the lives of others but the vine work he is doing within us. 

How does that vine work take place? As we abide.

Not in ministerial success. Not in the praise of men. Not in large crowds, swooning fans, and Facebook shares. 

We abide in the perfect righteousness of Jesus that is ours through simple faith that on a cross Jesus took on the penalty for all my sin and grants that I receive the merit of his perfect obedience as my new identity. No longer a condemned traitor but a justified and beloved son.

We are not saviors. We are but sheep, sons, and servants. We are not heroes. In fact, we are the chief sinners. We are not the vine, but show others where to find the Vine and how to abide in him as our sin-bearer and righteousness provider. We are not fathers. We are just brothers and sisters who have the same Abba. 

Doesn't that take the pressure off? Just a bit? 

"Pastor, maybe we need to remember that our primary work is not to focus on the vine work God is doing in the lives of others but the vine work he is doing within us."

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6. Your Next Step

As a next step, maybe it would serve you well to take a 5 minute break to freshly confess that your discouragement may be linked to a self-righteous longing to take the place of Jesus as Hero-Savior. Then rest in the full and complete embrace of your Abba, Father, who loves you and wants you to be free from having to carry such an impossible burden.

Just be his. Be a son. Be his beloved. 

And you know what? I bet that if God were to allow you to see a time-lapse of his work through you over the years, you'd be stunned and amazed. You would be on your knees with hands raise in thankfulness. 

So, when you preach this coming Sunday, look out upon the vineyard and believe that God is at work, even if underground where you can't see. 

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