In the course of ministry, hard spots are inevitable. It could be a set back, a conflict or perhaps an illness. They cannot be avoided. They are part of the providence of God. They are for your sanctification.
Do you remember that often? I mean between the whining, complaining and the pity parties you throw. We all do that. But do we remember they are intended for our maturity?
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1 (ESV)
How is that, you might ask. One important thing is perseverance. James 1 points all Christians in this direction. Pastors are no exception from that instruction. We should not be surprised when the hard spots hit. Pastors, just like lay people, will have their faith tested in order to produce steadfastness, otherwise known as perseverance. There can be no maturity without perseverance. You can’t excel at anything without perseverance. Ask any great musician. Ask a woodworker or a computer programmer. Perseverance through boredom (that’s been a tough one for me), pain, disappointment and more.
In those hard spots, God is working to develop perseverance so he can produce maturity in you and everyone else involved in it. Pastors usually don’t go through the hard spots alone. Their spouses (and sometimes their children) go through the difficulty too. Other church leaders go thru them as well. Elders carry the burden of the difficulties along with you. God is often at work for their maturity. Just like you, they probably aren’t too excited about it.
There is also a dark side. God sanctifies you by bringing your temptations to the surface through the hard spots. You will be weak, weary and life is completely out of your control. Ideally you would look to Christ. But often you seek comfort from other things, often a refuge you used to visit in days past. It may be rage to assert a sense of control. It may be slander, gossip or defending yourself to maintain the image. You may try to numb the pain.
These sins laid dormant in your heart. They were there all along, sort of like cancer in remission. But this trial stirs them up. They return, and you hate it. But there is the pull anyway. God’s intention is to humble you and produce repentance. I know that really wasn’t your plan or desire. Certainly not what I have in mind in the midst of a pastoral hard spot. I’m usually thinking about how someone else has to repent. But like everyone else we seek an escape from our fear, hurt pride, pressure etc.
The unfortunate events of Josh Hamilton’s life this week illustrate this. He is between accountability partners right now. Drugs and alcohol nearly ruined his life and baseball career. He is in the MLB drug program and tested weekly. He’s training in Arizona right now (or so I’ve deduced). “Family stress” led to a moment of weakness. So dining out alone, instead of with a teammate, he had 3-4 drinks. There is the allusion to something that has caused further family stress. A rough patch brought old temptations to the surface. Unfortunately he followed them, hoping to feel better, and made things worse. Josh is a Christian. He wants to obey and walk the narrow path. We are not perfect, but stumble in many ways (James 3:2).
Pastors are, well, pastors and not really supposed to be sinners. We’re supposed to have small, hardly noticeable sins. But we are normal sinners, just like everyone else. We can often pretend we aren’t. But we are. When we pretend we aren’t, we won’t repent when the sinfulness of our hearts are revealed. But that is the way to freedom. The hard spot is Jesus’ way of restructuring your heart. He comes, not to condemn, but to restore and transform. He is the only one who can make you right, even if he choose not to make the situation right.
Is your pastor in a hard spot? Pray for him (and your elders)! Pray that he perseveres instead of giving up. Pray that resists temptation which is sure to rear its ugly head. Pray that he seeks Jesus, the only Hope and Refuge there is.