Encouragement for a young, struggling pastor

It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. (Lamentations 3:27).

Dear Young Pastor:

I hear you’re having a tough time of it.

Good. Glad to hear it.

As I got it, a group in the church doesn’t care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don’t like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don’t wear one).

What makes their opposition dire is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.

Unity is always better than division.

You came close to resigning, I’m told. You probably felt, “If I don’t have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I’ll not be able to do anything here.”

You actually wrote out a resignation, perhaps to see what it would feel like.

It felt wrong. You knew you were displeasing the One who sent you there in the first place.

So, you chose to hang in there and try to give leadership to a church that is not sure it wants any.

Welcome to the ministry.

When Holy Scripture says, It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, that’s Bible talk for something like, “You may as well learn from the git-go what you’ve gotten yourself into.”


I saw this sign in front of a church: “Hang out with Jesus; He hung out for you.”

You have chosen to “hang in there with Jesus.”

In some respects–not in major, literal ways, but somewhat–it feels like a cross where you are suspended.

Hang in there.

Now, young pastor, the situation you find yourself in can do one of two things to your ministry (actually, it’s HIS ministry; He simply called you to work in His field for a short time):

–It can destroy you and end any further usefulness you have to the Kingdom.

–It can be the best thing that ever happened to your service and your effectiveness.

It depends on what you do with this opposition and harassment, how you handle it.

Take those people who do not like your style, who don’t care for your preaching, and who wish you would do them a favor and leave.  I hesitate to tell you this, but it’s the unvarnished truth:  You will have them in every church.  Get used to it.

Now, if you let them, they will rob you of your joy, steal any pleasure you have in serving the Lord, and undermine any future you have in this work.

If you are normal–and I’m betting you are–you were already wondering whether you were cut out for this.  Preaching is hard work, coming up with something good to preach, something straight from the throne, slaving in your study to shape it into a form where you can preach it effectively, and doing it numerous times every week. The presence of those harsh critics makes it doubly difficult. So, you begin to have thoughts like, “Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should have gone into some other work. I’m not cut out for this.”

Stop this foolishness.

That’s enemy talk. He loves to discourage a good field-hand for Jesus. And no wonder. If he can stop you from working and send you to the bunkhouse, he has won a rare victory over the Lord.

You ask, “But if I can’t lead this little congregation, how in the world can I expect to pastor a larger church?”

Answer: One has nothing to do with the other.

There are plenty of small congregations no pastor on earth can lead successfully.

Pastor, I can take you to ministers who were run off from their first church, but went on to a second and third, and did outstanding work. The first was the hardest.

I’ll be greatly disappointed if I get word you are hanging your head in the pulpit, muting the message, and tempering the call for men and women to obey the Lord.

If you let the fear of these people and the hunger for their approval drive what you do in the Lord’s work, you’ll soon be out of the ministry and it will be a good thing.

God doesn’t want His preachers to cringe in the face of opposition or discouragement. Nor does He want you craving the approval of the leadership.  Jesus told the first disciples, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). What could be clearer than that?

Opposition is not only par for the course, young pastor. It is the course.

God uses it in your life. The abrasion will scrub away the barnacles picked up from too much time immersed in this world’s ways. “It is good that I was afflicted,” the psalmist said. “That I might learn thy ways” (Ps. 119:71).

Stand up straight, look them in the eye, smile the smile of the saved and the knowing, and speak the word Christ has given you as though you had just been voted most-effective-preacher-of-the-year by the Heavenly Panel itself!

No mumbling allowed.  Speak up.

Those critics are doing you a big favor, whether they mean to or not. (Let’s not automatically attribute satanic motives to them. Many of them probably mean well, but don’t have a clue how they are to relate to the shepherd the Lord sends their way.)

I can think of five lessons you are learning at the hands of these critics:

–1) The pastor must not get his affirmation from the people in the pew. “Do I seek to please men?  If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).  Make up your mind.

We do want people who love the Lord and cherish His Word to appreciate our efforts to serve Him and them.  But nothing more than that.

–2) The pastor must look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of His faith. (Hebrews 12:2.)  The best prayer you will ever pray is also the simplest: “Father, what will you have me to do?” ( Acts 22:10.)

–3) The pastor will be a man of deep, intense prayer or he won’t make it.  “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they should pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Pray or lose heart and quit; those are your choices, every day of your life.

–4) When all is said and done, the only accolades you long to hear are those from the Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant….”  (Matthew 25:21.23)

–5) Congregations must be taught about the care and support of their preachers.  But one would think that the people of the Lord would love their pastors and pray for them and encourage them. The mature ones do.  If you get hold of the other kind, be patient with them and teach them how to do things right.

A few things I have learned along the way….

–1) You will not stay at this church the rest of your ministry. God has an expiration date for your work there. So, knowing it’s for a short time, give Him your all and your best.

–2) Your next church will be different. A friend of mine went to a new church and soon noticed something: “We have the same people here,  just with different names.” There’s something to that, that all churches are alike in many ways. But they are also vastly different. Each congregation is like your children–resembling each other, but individuals with their own personalities.

–3) The lessons learned in this church will make you a better pastor and stronger preacher for the next.

–4) You will have some great joys and hard times in every church you ever serve. It goes with the territory. In fact, when times are the toughest, you will often do your very best work for the Savior.

Some churches will offer more joys than headaches, but the spiritual migraines are part of the picture.

After all, if pastoring people, leading churches, managing a staff, and preaching sermons was easy, the Lord would not have to “call” people to do it. He would have to turn applicants away.

It helps me to remember when the Lord called young Jeremiah into this work.

First, He said, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah was to preach to “the kings of Judah, to the princes, to its priests and to the people of the land.”

“Everywhere I send you, you will go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.”

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? You get to be a pastor to prominent people, be seen on television by the masses. This could be all right.

Second, He said, “I’m sending judgment on this nation. These people have forsaken me and are worshiping gods they have made with their own hands. And I’ve had it up to here.”

Uh oh. This sounds ominous.

Third, “They will fight against you.” 

Wait a minute, Lord. They’re going to fight against me?  Why me? I’m not their problem?  I’m just your spokesperson.

That’s why.

Fourth, “Do not be afraid of them.”

Easy for you to say, Lord.

Fifth, God gave Jeremiah His protection.   “I will be with you to deliver you.”

“Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city, and as a pillar of iron, and as walls of bronze against the whole land.”

Do you know what happens when a rotten tomato is thrown at a bronze wall? Nothing. Nothing sticks to a bronze wall.

God has made you a bronze wall.

Sixth, God gave Jeremiah a warning:  “If you get stage fright and are afraid of these people, I will humiliate you in front of them.”

Stage fright not allowed, young pastor.  Get over yourself.  This is not about you. This is about the living God and the call He has put upon your life.

Can you deal with that?

That’s what you have gotten yourself into, young pastor. You are following in a noble tradition.

Lose the perfectionism. Lose the fantasy of being acclaimed the most popular man in town. Lose the success syndrome that drives you to read all those business self-help books and pattern yourself after Bill Gates or some other big shot du jour.

Most of all, lose the fear of rejection from people who do not know that they will some day stand before the Lord and give account for their treatment of His minister.

“Let no man despise thy youth,” Paul wrote to a young pastor (I Timothy 4:12).

Later, Paul would add, “For God has not given us the spirit of timidity, but of power and love and a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7).

“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:1).