An Open Letter to Our New Students: The Good of Ministry

In my last letter, I wrote at length about the hardships you can expect in ministry—maybe ones you are already experiencing. Ministry is hard work for all of the reasons I outlined, not the least of which is we’re supposed to carry each other’s burdens and do the things Christ did. We’re to comfort the sick, care for the dying, and return insult with blessing.

I also wrote in the letter that I would offer some positive aspects of ministry. These days, for me, that seems like a difficult task. In between making a living, repairing cars which have broken down or hit a broken down old horse (my daughter and the horse survived), family members with health challenges, the death of a parent, and kids in college, things have been a little on the hectic side. I know you can sympathize.

I have learned to do something in the midst of all of these challenges. I don’t worry. I laugh, and I cannot find any other way to describe why than to say it is the joy which comes from knowing these trials are “momentary and light.” That isn’t just a platitude. There is such a joy.

Now, mind you, when Paul wrote that in 2 Corinthians 4:17, he wasn’t just talking about the “wasting away” of this physical life. He was talking about real trouble in his life from preaching the gospel. He called THAT suffering “momentary and light.” By comparison, my troubles are feather-light. Joy—God’s joy in Christ—keeps me going.

On the other side of the coin—the one showing you the hard things you can expect in ministry—is the good.

What is the “good” you can expect?

First, you’ll see surprising glimpses into the depths of God’s grace in daily living. Where we least expect it, God’s grace carves a path through difficult circumstances, providing assurance, confirmation, and hope. When we are at the bedside of a dying man or woman, God’s grace is there with us. When they can lay in the bed and smile in the face of death as they go to be with the Lord, grace washes over them and us. It gives them the courage to accept physical death with the promise of resurrection. It gives us comfort in the midst of loss.

Second, you will see the “unsavable” saved (the English language falls short of indicating the depths of our depravity and of God’s grace). I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people write someone off: “Well, I’ve shared the gospel with them over and over again and they just don’t get it. They’re never going to be saved.” Are you God? Like the old James Bond title says, “Never say never again.” Share the gospel again. And again. And again. God doesn’t work on our timeline and He doesn’t always work in ways we can see. Sometimes the message doesn’t land on fertile soil until the final hours of life when the veil between this life and the next is wearing thin. And I am reminded by Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard of this simple truth: those who came to work in the last hour of the day were paid the same as those who had labored all day. Their reward was the same. God can and does save the unsavable. You may not hear a confession of Christ in someone who is in their final moments. It doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in the last second of life. We’ll all have to wait patiently to see. But imagine your joy should you be greeted by that person in eternity.

Third, you’ll rejoice in new births, physical and spiritual. A pastor or minister is usually one of the first people to see a new baby. When you do, if the parents will let you, hold that baby. Pronounce blessings over that child. Pray for the wisdom of the parents. Use that physical birth as an opportunity to prepare them for their coming to Christ in the future. Remind them the joy they are experiencing then is incomparable to the joy of knowing, upon that child’s confession of Christ as Savior, they will never, ever, ever be possessed by death. They are Christ’s forevermore.

Fourth, you will see perseverance cultivated in your life and in the lives of the saints. As I noted in the last email, things are not easy. They never will be. But there is something about watching people learn perseverance. In Karate, one of the things we used to do was strike our shins with a cane. This wasn’t to punish ourselves. It was to prepare ourselves for contact later; that is, to help us endure and persevere through any pain inflicted on us. This life produces the same thing in us spiritually. Each trial teaches us something. It toughens us. It reminds us to turn to the Father, from whom we receive protection and from whom we draw strength. He is our source of perseverance. Watch as those around you are learning to endure hardship, and as you endure hardship for the sake of Christ.

Fifth, you will find the unsolvable solvable. I have helped educate many ministers. Many have been faced with circumstances where they thought there was no way the situation could be resolved. Through financial hardship, trouble in churches, difficulties in marriages, and trying academic circumstances, God does—I have seen Him—solve the unsolvable. I have seen Him restore marriages broken by infidelity and abuse. I have seen him lift people (gradually) out of financial hardship. I have seen him restore fellowship in churches racked by internal strife over petty circumstances and factionalism. He can do it.

Sixth, you’ll receive an encouraging word from a long lost friend. There have been times in my career when I’ve thought, “Why am I doing this?” “Why won’t you (God) let me do something else?” “Wouldn’t I be better off if …?” Those are questions I usually ask when I’m feeling pretty low. But, in those circumstances, God has been gracious enough to let me receive some word about why I was called to this. Likewise, there will be times when someone from your past—a friend, a church member, or a former student—will come to you and say, “I have never thanked you …” or “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when you…” or “I wouldn’t have made it through that if you hadn’t …” This type of thing really lights my fire.

Finally, you get to be a messenger. I have chosen this as my final point because it is most important. There is no greater honor, nothing which brings a greater level of satisfaction than being one who declares the words of the living God. Do you realize you are a messenger, a herald, for the King of Kings? That’s right. You are an ambassador for THE King. What greater honor could you experience in life? He is the King who died and rose again. He’s unlike any other, and His kingdom has no end.

There are many more things I could write here, but time will not permit. I only wanted to provide some balance to what I wrote earlier. Keep your eyes open to the challenges and the blessings which lay in front of you. Watch for God’s movements around you. And never give up on those with whom you have shared the gospel time and time again, lest you have to tell your King you gave up. Finally, trust He will work out all things in accordance with his will.

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