You are not alone. There's a certain reassurance and confidence that churns within us once we finally realize we aren't alone. I'm sure that we've all felt like Elijah as he sat underneath the juniper tree regretting the day he was born. We've had our victory moments on the top of Mount Carmel, but those moments are oftentimes few and far between. It's the process between those victories that can seem lonely and difficult. Many quit and give up. Many of our soldiers have fallen by the wayside. They lay motionless on the battlefield refusing to continue moving forward. Their wounds are many and their sorrow is overwhelming.
It's important for you to know that your diligence and sacrifice isn't in vain. I know what it's like for the congregation to expect more of you than what they expect of themselves. We are oftentimes told what we do wrong while rarely being celebrated for what we do right. I know they expect you to ask nothing for yourself while they ask everything of you. I know what it's like to feel trapped between the feelings of being unappreciated and content with God's reward for your private works. I know what it's like to smile during the tough times because that's what expected of you.
Oftentimes we the shoulder the weak and weary while the physical shoulder we're to lean on is absent. I know what it's like to feel reluctant to trust others because of the hurt from many. You give your time, money, and energy for others, and there's oftentimes nothing given in return. It is true that your reward awaits; yet, us men in mortal bodies have to tussle with the desire to be appreciated. And the criticism can be distracting. I know that so well. I know what it's like to be criticized unjustly and labeled prematurely.
I also know what it's like to till the soil of a field that doesn't feed you. Your mouth has been muzzled while you plow the field. Many assume your life is lived based on the congregation's giving. What they fail to realize is that many of them don't give. We have nothing to steal from the church seeing that there isn't anything to steal. The needs are many, and the righteous preachers seek to meet all of them. I know what it's like for the accounts to be low, but your faith is high. The only problem is that the electric company doesn't accept payments of faith. I know what it's like to wait at the jailhouse for hours until one of your congregants is bailed out. I also know what it's like to plead with a couple not to go to the courthouse to sign those divorce papers. I know what it's like to sit with the mourning and laugh with the joyful. Funerals are no fun, but seeing the birth of the babies is a joyous occasion. You are a mediator, counselor, friend, confidant, janitor, cook, community organizer, and so much more. Your responsibility is heavy, and the burden doesn't let up just because you don't feel like carrying it. You consider shutting everything down and becoming a "pew-seating Christian" where demands aren't asked of you. You know you'd be the best support staff of whatever church you sit in because you'd be willing to give what you know you sometimes lacked--support.
I know what it's like to have financial hardship both personally and in the church. While many come, only a few believe enough to actually give to the house they are fed in. They receive spiritually but usually give nothing of their own substance in return.
I even know what it feels like to wake up to hateful, terroristic messages that are meant to invoke fear and dread. My life has been threatened more times than I can count. Yet, we continue to plow. Our hands don't let go even though we feel drained and worn out.
The support system for the shepherd is almost nonexistent. And oftentimes shepherds can be spiteful and discouraging towards one another. Instead of edifying, some tear down and instead of reconciling, some expose. Instead of being a band of brothers, we're like a bag of loose leaf tea--bound as one but loose and separated within. The sheep herd, but the earthly one that stands with the rod and staff is alone. At the end of the night he returns to his chambers with his family oftentimes filled with sorrow, pain, bites from sheep he was trying to feed, wounds from the attacks of neighboring shepherds, scratches from attempting to rescue fleeing sheep from the thorns, bite marks from fighting wolves, and the scars brought on from deep depression. When you're tired few people actually know. When you express your weariness you're told to rest, but what they fail to see is that you're emotionally drained and depleted. A vacation doesn't refresh you. This is because ministry follows you wherever you go. You cannot turn it off. Unlike a profession, this calling lasts until you take you last breath. You can't escape it, and you don't resign from it.
Just know your labor isn't in vain, your value isn't found in the size of your congregation, and those who stand against you aren't as many as those who are with you. When God asked, "Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?", you answered the call. Many heard the voice, but you responded. You didn't put the responsibility on someone else. You heard, and you answered. Don't doubt it. The greatest office in the land isn't the president, but the preacher. The president handles what's temporal, but the preacher handles that which is eternal. You're loved and appreciated. From one Pastor to another, THANK YOU. Please don't quit! Be encouraged.