by C.J. Mahaney
As the star of the television series Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe suits up and labors in some of the most dirty and dangerous work environments possible. To date, he hasn’t tried pastoring. But pastoring qualifies as a dirty job, which is reflected in the most common biblical metaphor for the job: shepherd. Being a shepherd is difficult, demanding, and — if done well — exhausting. Pastors with any experience in the field will know exactly what I mean.
Take sermon preparation. The work is hard, repetitive, and impossible to avoid, outgrow, or expedite. You spend hours of hard work over the text, and at some point you review your sermon manuscript and are embarrassed by what you see. Maybe you find yourself tired, confused, and a bit fearful. And you’ll do it all again next week.
Then comes the sermon. Ten minutes into the message a terrible feeling seems to confirm that it’s not going well. After worship, you talk with people but nobody even mentions your sermon. Even your wife, who wants to encourage you, says, “Well, it wasn’t one of your best.”
Or take counseling. You meet with the same people about the same sins over and over again. You invest many hours in counseling a man who eventually leaves his wife for another woman. Meanwhile, you have church members who are suffering. You visit the hospital so often the nurses know your name. Eventually tragedy hits. A husband and father dies of cancer, and you must comfort his family and teach the church a biblical perspective on suffering.
Those are just a few areas. We could easily extend the list. And given these repetitive, difficult tasks, it is no surprise that pastors easily become weary, discouraged, and joyless.
This may not seem like a big deal at first. After all, most jobs can be done well without joy. It’s unnecessary for my mechanic or my dentist to be happy. I just want a mechanic who can fix my car. I am looking for flawless dentistry. I shop for skill. But in pastoral ministry, skill is not enough.
You see, the manner of our ministry matters to God. Skill, diligence, and faithfulness are crucial — and commendable — but they are not enough. God requires us to execute our task with joyful hearts, which explains why Peter instructs pastors to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2, emphasis added). God-glorifying pastoral ministry must be done willingly, springing from a ready heart that is eager to serve. In other words, pastors are to serve joyfully. God wants happy pastors.
So I must ask: Are you a happy pastor? Let me encourage you not to rely on self-evaluation here. I’d suggest asking your wife: “Am I a happy pastor?” And don’t stop there — ask your kids. Ask your fellow pastors or assistant. Ask your congregation. Are you a happy pastor?
Or are you a weary and discouraged pastor? If so, how can you reclaim a joyful heart? Here are three brief suggestions. First, remember that God has forgiven all your sins through the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no reason for joy that exceeds this one. But it is frighteningly easy to lose sight of Calvary. And when this happens, we become aware only of our sin and the sins of our church members. So we must maintain a clear view of the gospel. Make this a priority in your daily spiritual disciplines. Like Paul, resolve to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Nothing will renew our joy more quickly than our amazement that God has saved us through the person and work of the Savior (Rom. 5:11). If you forget about this, forget about being a happy pastor.
Second, stay alert for evidences of God’s activity in those you serve. Scripture gives us two helpful ways to identify the Holy Spirit’s work in our churches: study the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4–11, 27–31; Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Peter 4:10–11). Read these lists carefully. Then, look up, and look carefully at your church. You will see God at work everywhere you look. Take note of these discoveries, thank God for His work, and point it out to your church. The question isn’t whether God is working; it’s whether you perceive it — and if you don’t, you aren’t going to be a happy pastor.
Third, be amazed that they come back for another sermon. “If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons,” Charles Spurgeon wrote, “it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear.’” But our people come back Sunday after Sunday. Ponder that, and you’ll increasingly be a joyful pastor.
Pastoring is not an easy job. It certainly is not a clean job — it is shepherding, after all. If you’re a pastor, you’ll be tempted to complain and to serve joylessly. We must be alert to these temptations. We must fight for joy because our skill, diligence, and faithfulness alone will not cut it. God wants happy pastors.