Ministry is not for the faint of heart. One need only review the apostle Paul’s “resume” to realize such is the case. He describes his ministry experience:
“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. . . . Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25, 28).
Paul faced both external opposition to the gospel and internal pressure for the care of the church.
Skimming his apostolic resume in 2 Corinthians 11 reveals a man who suffered much for the gospel. If the external trials were not enough for Paul, then there was also the internal pressure of caring for the church. Bottom line: ministry is filled with both physically demanding and emotionally draining work. The stereotypical idea that ministers work only a couple of hours a week (on Sunday) could not be farther from the truth.
It is no wonder why Paul, in his prison letter to Timothy, reminds the young pastor, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Ministry can be brutal both to the body and the mind. Timothy needed to be encouraged to continue in the work that God had called him to.
Today is no different. When it comes to the Great Commission, encouragement for ministers of the gospel is as vital as evangelism and church planting. There are at least five necessary components for a Great Commission strategy (praying, evangelizing, church planting, encouraging, and equipping). The first three provide foundation; the last two provide endurance. While I deal with the importance of all five elsewhere, encouragement is a slice of the Great Commission pie that more often than not is left out.
Evangelism and church planting, both domestically and internationally, seems to be on the rise within the SBC, as rightly it should. However, one area that needs equal attention when it comes to our Great Commission faithfulness is encouragement. Our church planters and missionaries, along with pastors of established churches, grow weary (quickly). While more recent study reveals that minsters are not leaving the ministry in droves like some may say (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-says-pastors-are-all-miserable-and-want-to-q.html), discouragement is all too real.
This is where the church can play a vital role. Discovering tangible ways to encourage pastors, church planters, and missionaries is an essential way to foster longevity in gospel advancement. While ministers of the gospel grow weary, churches that embrace a culture of encouragement among those on the frontlines provide real endurance for those struggling to run the race well.
As I meet with pastors, church planters, and missionaries all over North American and internationally, the common theme I hear is you have no idea what it means to us when we receive a card, message, package, phone call, or visit.
Paul knew this well. After all, after planting churches, he would make his rounds back to those same churches “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:22). You never know what a call, card, text, package, visit or just ongoing communication with a pastor, church planter, or missionary will do to help them “continue in the faith.”