This coming Sunday, a pastor in Scotland will unlock the church door, turn on the lights, and crank up the furnace. He’ll put on a pot of coffee, boil some water for tea, get his Bible out, look over his notes, and plan one final time. Then, he’ll wait. He wonders how many people will show up: One, two, maybe 10? It’s a weekly routine for this brother pastor. And it’s mirrored in poor communities all over the world.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for a pastor of a small church to feel like a failure. Does my small church make me unworthy to serve the King? Surely God would be more pleased if there were more people here? While thoughts like these are a dime-a-dozen, a dangerous mentality lurks just below the surface.
If the church is packed, the pastor may be tempted to pat himself on the back. But when a pastor sees a nearly empty building week after week, seemingly evidencing such little fruit, he may begin to think that his calling to ministry was a sham. I’m too weak to do this work. Maybe God didn’t call me to it after all. Low attendance and a lack of visible fruit can cause the pastor to fixate on his weaknesses, faults, and failures. He can’t help but feel responsible for everything that’s going wrong.
As a small-town pastor, I know this because I’ve been there. I remember once, in a particularly dark and difficult season of ministry, calling a prayer meeting. I was hopeful that this meeting would encourage our members to keep looking to Jesus, even—and especially—in the hardships of life.
But when the evening of said prayer meeting came, no one showed up. Not a single soul. I went home, wept, and questioned my calling. I was deeply discouraged. My weaknesses were painfully evident. I knew I lacked the general competencies to lead. I was overwhelmed by my shortcomings, and I began to question everything I did.
But then, through the dark clouds of pastoral discouragement shone these bright, life-giving words: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Cor. 1:26) God’s Word brought me the refreshing reminder that I wasn’t called to ministry because of my crowd-gathering expertise. On the contrary, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27).
So, brother-pastor, whether you lead a mega-church or a small, unknown church, here’s the posture you need to cultivate: a glad embrace of weakness. I know this is easier said than done. It goes against the grain of our sinful nature. We want to impress—to be esteemed highly by all. But notice how Paul continues in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:28–29).
Do you see Paul’s point there? Inherent to the call to ministry is that we are not impressive. No one called to the service of the King is fit for it. In fact, God has designed things this way in order that “no human being might boast in the presence of God.” And yet we sinfully forget that God’s power is displayed in our weakness. We look to ourselves and our abilities to see His will be done. We strive to be impressive because we want the recognition, praise, and glory for ourselves. But God will see to it that He alone receives that which is rightly His.
Therefore, pastors must fight against the pride that fuels the hunger for pastoral glory. Here are three ways to do this.
1. Boast in your weakness.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he will boast only of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on him. It’s against the nature of pride to boast in weakness. Power associates with strength, but God displays power through human weakness to show His glory. So pastor, consider this: the power of Christ will not rest on the pompous, arrogant, prideful man. The power of Christ will rest on the weak, humble, lowly man. Do you embrace your weaknesses and rely upon the Lord?
2. Remember that God opposes the proud (James 4:6).
God will receive the praise that is rightly His. He’ll do this by picking the man we never would. He’ll use that which we would otherwise cast away. In Scripture, we’re constantly amazed by the men that God chooses to do his bidding. Why David, who was the youngest of the sons? Why Jeremiah? He was just a kid. Why Peter, who was a denier with weak faith? Why Paul? He was the arrogant, self-centred zealot who was destroying the church. In short, God opposes the proud because He’s not interested in glory-sharing.
3. Preach Christ. Rest. Repeat.
So many people in today’s world, pastors included, anxiously strive to prove themselves. But for those in Christ, we have nothing to prove. Pastors need to model this for their people. Christ should be the one affirmed after the sermon. Christ should be exalted as you fade into the background. Let no human boast. No one is intrinsically righteous; no human sanctifies or redeems. We were called in weakness and we remain in weakness.
So pastor, work hard to preach Christ and Him crucified. Then, rest. God is sovereign. He will work through His Word (Is. 55:11). If you should boast, let it be only in the cross (Gal. 6:14). Don’t let your weakness lead you to wallow in self-pity, but rather use it to fuel your faith and trust that the Lord works the good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).