October is Pastor Appreciation Month and many pastors and ministry leaders are facing burnout and exhaustion, feeling the weight of their job responsibilities. Watch this encouraging message from Pastor and author Jeremy Writebol and read an excerpt from his book, Pastor, Jesus Is Enough, challenging pastors to rely on Jesus’ sufficiency, not their own.
It’s exhausting, trying to be enough.
As our worship team opened our gathering with a welcome, my heart sank. The room was unusually quiet. Normally at least half the seats would be filled at the beginning of the service, with stragglers and those persistently behind showing up to fill the room by the time we had begun to sing the second or third song. But that dynamic had changed. On this particular Sunday there were maybe ten people in the room. The room that had been so full before was so, so silent.
On that first Sunday after I looked around the room, I saw how may people were absent, and my heart broke. I tried so hard to hold it all together. I had lived my life trying to be a faithful, wise, and compassionate pastor. I gave every effort to lead well. And it was all gone. For five years I had seen the trajectory of the church move upward in all the “measurable categories.” Attendance grew every year. We were on the brink of making plans for a building expansion or even relocation to a larger facility. Baptisms and conversions were frequent, membership was increasing, giving was abounding, leaders were multiplying, small groups growing, staff was being hired. All the best stuff of ministry was taking place. And within fewer than six months all the victories seemed to be wiped out. Some remained, but what had become of my beautiful church?
The psalmist’s words, “Unless the lord builds the house, those who build it laborer in vain,” echoed in my mind (Ps 127:1). Had I built in vain? Had I preached, served, discipled, prayed with, blessed, encouraged all for nothing? I compared myself to the couple John Piper warned about who wasted their lives collecting seashells. At least they had the seashells. I had the remnant of a relationally bombed-out church. Shame washed over me because I was the leader. This wasn’t supposed to happen under my watch. I wasn’t enough.
Pastor, you aren’t enough either.
I don’t say that to be demeaning or to discount your accomplishments or faithfulness in ministry. I’m not trying to compare us, as if to say, “I couldn’t be enough, so why in the world would you think you could be?” I’m trying to express the truth the Bible often draws out about how sufficient we are for the calling and work of ministry. Even the apostle Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16). And he was the apostle Paul. So we shouldn’t think we are the exception. We aren’t enough. We were never meant to be.
Our frustrations with this reality boil over from our own ambitions and perceptions and even definitions of what success in ministry should be. We want to pastor and lead well, so that the church will grow, and the measurable stuff of ministry will bloom all around us. Any setback, deficiency, or call for assistance makes us vulnerable to the charge of failure. We’re like a small child wanting to be independent, shouting at their parent, “I can do it!”
I am not enough. You are not enough. Gratefully, our Savior Jesus, whom we serve, knows this. Here’s how I know.
In 2018 the multisite church that I pastor began going through a significant leadership transition. Our senior pastor of over twenty-five years had announced his intentions to transition out of leadership and the church would begin looking for his successor. As part of the transition strategy, Pastor Doug wanted to ensure that our church would avoid organizational drift away from our foundations both in mission and in method. Resources on mission drift were secured and supplied to all the staff and elders. As part of the team that identifies and shapes what each of our congregations would be hearing on Sunday mornings in the pulpit, I suggested a study on Revelation 2–3 and Jesus’ letters to the churches. In my mind each of these letters identified a specific caution that Jesus would give to the churches and a way forward for them. It was a perfect series to call us to greater fidelity as a church and faithfulness in avoiding moral, theological, and methodological drift. However, I failed to account for one thing in my recollection of the content of Revelation 2–3: the pastors.
Where I had thought of each of these letters as an indictment against the church (mostly) and a solution (repentance) to fix what ailed them, I failed to see that there was a person looming large over the churches speaking directly to the leaders. His words, in fact, were the content of the letters to each church, but he wasn’t speaking as a detached or distant CEO giving pragmatic instruction on how to fix a branch or two of the spiritual franchises. And it wasn’t Jesus just tossing out leadership memos to these congregations about how to do better and try harder. He was writing to pastors. Real leaders, real individuals who were given the charge to lead local congregations in actual local communities. These letters are not Jesus’ take on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
When I saw the seven letters (and the entire book of Revelation for that matter) in this light, I realized Jesus was drawing close to suffering, insufficient, floundering pastors and churches. In the magnificence of his all-surpassing power and authority, he stands near pastors and churches to remind them of his ultimate victory over the cosmic powers that would undo them. In the triumph of the resurrection, he draws near as the “faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5 CSB). When he draws near to the apostle John on Patmos in Revelation 1, he appears in radiant glory. There is no question the vision of the resurrected, vindicated, glorified Jesus was to demonstrate his supreme and matchless authority over all contenders. If you’re on the opposing side of his glory, you should be terrified. But if you’re a “brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus,” then Jesus showing up in glory for you is a welcome sight (Rev 1:9 csb). He’s truly the older brother coming to the rescue of his younger siblings being abused by a cowardly bully. In a cosmic sense, thinking about the universal church, that’s really comforting. But there’s a locality to this vision as well; don’t miss it.
Seven cities are mentioned. Seven communities are identified as the places where Jesus’ letter will land. John is commanded to “write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches” Rev 1:11). While the number seven symbolizes the universal scope of this letter for all the churches, we can’t look past the specific referents in Jesus’ command to John. He has seven specific—in space and time—communities and churches in view. He shows up to say something to Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum and Thyatira and Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea. He shows up to be something for these churches. He wants them to see that he is enough.
Jesus makes it plain where his attention is focused. He cares for his church. He’s standing in the center of his people. Jesus cares for his pastors. They are held in his right hand. The letters are personal addresses from Jesus to these pastors about who he is and who they are. Underpinning every letter is the fact that the pastors are held in the dominant hand of authority and care of Jesus Christ himself. He begins each address confronting the pastors with a specific facet of his identity, directly pointed to the need and lack of “enoughness” that each pastor has. These letters are about how Jesus is enough for each of them, in their particular needs.
These seven letters are love letters from Jesus to pastors, and the more I think about it, the more that seems right. Certainly, they aren’t syrupy and sappy romantic letters, but they are nonetheless evidences of Jesus’ care and concern for the pastors who lead his church. The introduction to the book of Revelation reminds us that it is from “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev 1:5). These letters are the very Word of God for pastors today, like me and you, striving to be enough and yet forgetting to remember that we have a Savior who is absolutely enough. And you, pastor, belong to him!
So, because Jesus is enough, and because pastors belong to him, “let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says” Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13,22 CSB).
Celebrate your pastor—or treat yourself if you are one. Get great deals on pastoral theology, preaching, and discipleship titles during Pastor Appreciation Month.