Maximus had just laid waste to his foes in the gladiator arena. He raises his arms and yells to the crowd “are you not entertained?!” It’s an iconic moment from an iconic movie. It’s a line I quote quite often as a matter of fact (although more so in my college days).
Here is a man who is on display before the crowds, and they seem disappointed in his performance, underwhelmed when they were expecting a show that would keep them on the edge of their seats. Here is a man at war personally while the crowds stand outside the field of battle, cheering or heckling, complaining or affirming.
I’ve been a pastor now for five years, and I can relate to that scene more and more.
I’ve been hesitant to even say that because I genuinely don’t seek a “woe is me” line of thinking or a “poor guy” response.
But I feel it.
And I share that feeling to advocate for those in my life who have been brutalized in the arena of ministry, all while they receive the thumbs down of those seeking to be entertained by the public figure that is the pastor. I share that feeling because men in ministry have been so hurt by the war that they face depression, discouragement, and even suicidal thoughts.
I know a man who has been faithful for decades and yet has people grumbling against him because his personality is not to their liking or some other minutia.
I know a man who was falsely accused (and proven so) of all sorts of moral failures by a group of people in the church who didn’t like him.
I know a man who was critiqued widely and regularly for his style of preaching.
I know a man who is exhausted and he’s only been in ministry a few years.
I know a dozen youth pastors who have faced to differing degrees the perception that they aren’t in the big leagues, they’re not adults, they’re not actually doing anything hard, they’re not real pastors yet, etc., despite being ordained ministers of the gospel. And to that I say, there is no greater mission field in the world than the ages of 15-30.
I know a man who regularly has to quote Colossians 1 and the importance of being continuously strengthened by the power of Christ, in order to continue manning up and seeking to live out his calling (that man is me).
Pastoral ministry is war.
It’s emotionally, physically, relationally, mentally, and spiritually draining.
It is painful.
It is hard.
Now, again, hear me say as clear as day: it’s worth it. The moments when I see young men and women catch the fire of discipleship, when I see students take ownership of their own faith, when I see older believers not get out of the game but continue advocating for the Kingdom to come, I am overwhelmed with joy. The pain and difficulty of ministry fades to the background as the joy of fruitfulness comes to the forefront.
So, yes it’s worth it.
But sometimes, oftentimes, that doesn’t lighten the load.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:3-10
When I was young, when God first called me into ministry (at the age of 7) and then later affirmed that call (at the age of 17), I thought pastoral ministry was easy and fun. I mean, I love to talk. I especially love to talk about Jesus. I thought people would love to hear me talk about Jesus. That’s all there was to it.
Then I actually got into ministry. Woah it ain’t that. Paul is challenging here. I think every man seeking to go into ministry should read this passage again and again. What does ministry sometimes look like?
Giving up one’s life for the church.
Yet always rejoicing.
Yet making many (others) rich.
But possessing everything (in Christ).
For the Kingdom.
Here’s the beauty. Paul and his fellow ministers didn’t do anything that Christ didn’t do better. And so Christ doesn’t call the modern pastor to do anything that He didn’t do perfectly. Christ was homeless, lonely, poor. He continuously gave up His life for the people around Him and then He did it finally and firmly via the cross.
So, pastor, take heart.
Your affirmation comes not from the raucous crowd watching your public ministry.
Your affirmation comes from Christ who gives you strength.
Pastor, take heart.
Your faithfulness has been given a gigantic thumbs up from the only Emperor that matters, King Jesus.
Pastor, take heart.
He knows. He sees. He cares. He loves. He provides strength.
Church, pray for your pastors. They are imperfect men, broken men, men in need of great grace.
Church, support your pastors. In every decision they make, they are weighing many different opinions and perspectives.
Church, love your pastors.
Church, fight alongside your pastors. Get in the arena with them. Do ministry alongside them.
Church, don’t lose your pastor. Don’t be the reason they step away from ministry.
I long for the day that I don’t hear of pastors taking their own lives. I long for the day when pastors don’t need counseling, don’t get burnt out, don’t battle depression on the regular.
I long for the day when the question isn’t “are you not entertained” but rather “are you with me”?
Let us strive for that day here on earth.
In His Name,