Every job is tough. No doubt. In fact, it’s kind of appealing to think of all the reasons why your job is actually one of the hardest jobs in the whole world. It’s very possible that you do have one of the hardest jobs in the whole world. Long hours. Mean boss. Uncomfortable chairs. Angry coworkers. Nasty coffee. We all have a series of complaints, difficulties, and genuine unpleasant tasks that affect our work. A fresh look at the ministry may help us understand why ministry can classify as one of the world’s toughest jobs.
Paul had this to say about his job: “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 6:5; 2 Cor. 11:23-28)
That’s quite a catalog of abuses. Paul had it tough. When was the last time you got stoned? There is no need to become a victim of stoning in order for your job to qualify as one of the toughest jobs. though. Every pastor and minister knows the little trials along the way–You had very little time to prepare a sermon, but Sunday is coming. Even though you have top-of-the-line media available and a stunning PowerPoint display, your data projector malfunctions. The secretary resigns. Hate mail comes. Your family gets sick. It’s tough, but it gets tougher–on a deeper and more distressing level.
The tough part comes as a result of two things. First, pastors have as part of their daily load the care of their church, as Paul expressed (2 Cor. 11:28). That is a huge responsibility. In much the same way as a physician may face the stress of his patient’s health, the pastor deals with the concern over his attendee’s spiritual health. Are they truly followers of Jesus? Are they living in sin, or committed to purity of life? These are big questions, because–even more than the situation of a person with failing health–the pastor is concerned about the eternal destiny of souls.
The second reason that pastors face one of the toughest jobs is because of their position on the frontlines of the spiritual warfare. This epic, age-long battle is more fierce, more destructive, more violent, and more consuming than any imaginable nuclear warfare. It is a battle that is fought by beings that are thousands of times more powerful than humans. This a spiritual battle, with spiritual weapons, with metaphysical superpowers. The laws of space and time are transcended. The foe is unseen. This battle is one of infinite dimensions, because it is a battle led by Him who is infinitely powerful–Jesus Christ. And the foe? It is Satan.
Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Every believer is called to participate in this warfare. But pastors and ministry leaders are commissioned with the task of greatest danger and greatest responsibility. The temptations to compromise are greater. The lure of sin may be stronger. The need for integrity is magnified.
It gets tough. As tough as it is, however, the story would be incomplete unless we reminded ourselves of the amazing rewards of ministry.
Paul, in his description of the toils of ministry also wrote this: “Through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:8-10) Do you see the mixed nature of ministry? It is sorrowful, but joyful, too. It is desperate poverty, but is also possessing everything.
In his other description of his ministry toil, Paul explained that these abuses and his weaknesses were part of God’s perfect plan for glory: “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 Cor. 12:9-10).
Pastor, take heart.
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