I was so blessed to receive a gift the other Sunday. It was not a box of mooncakes. Rather, something more precious: a wooden box with a beautiful handpainted rainbow, the word “Inspiring” and my name “Kenny”. Each of the English adult congregation pastor received one – each unique. Inside the box were well-crafted and anonymous personal notes of appreciation and affirmation. I read mine a few times and was encouraged. There are always warm and loving people in church who are spiritually alert and know when their pastors need encouragement and they do something about it.
They are like Jonathan, that rare gem, the covenant brother of David.
It is often forgotten that every pastor needs encouragement just as much as members. In fact, they need it even more. For many reasons too.
For one, they had entered the ministry with a passion to make a difference in people’s lives, but it frustrates and pulls them down when their expectations have not been matched with reality on the ground. People change so little and so slowly. Some even get worse. Some members show so much of their dark sides, it makes pastors feel like Elijah under the juniper tree.
The ministry is very demanding and people have unrealistic expectations of their pastors. To worsen things, the pastor lives in a Web 2.0 world where his members can hear the best preachers in town and the world, and be unfairly compared to and criticized. In addition, the pastor pushes himself constantly, and even lays his health and family on the altar of people’s immature expectations .
Another pastoral struggle is the fight in the mind against anxiety and fear. Even more vexing is the struggle to embrace ambiguity, paradox and suffering in ministry.
Pastors get burnt out from prolonged labour and no sabbaticals; weary from working with meagre fruit to show for sacrifices put in; and from being misunderstood and hurt.
To worsen things are professional critics who think they are doing the church good by criticizing with disdain and disregard the weaknesses of the church and pastors.
Satan is of course always searching for unmended gaps in the fence of unity through which to discourage, harass, attack pastors. Centuries of expertise has informed their strategies. “Get the leader and the sheep will suffer,” the devil officer will tell his demon soldiers. “Use the church members and it doubles the impact of hurt and discouragement.”
When David was running for his life with the state army of king Saul searching for him in the wilderness of Ziph, he was filled with discouragement and fear. Jonathan risked angering his father Saul, and found David and encouraged him:
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”(1 Samuel 23:16-17)
Mooncakes supplies energy, which pastors need. But encouragement supplies hope and fresh motivation for the journey ahead.
Pastors of today, more than ever, need treasure boxes like the one I have received.