As we enter a new year, I could think of nothing more appropriate than to begin with a note of encouragement. I hope that this entry fits that bill.
As I look back over the year just completed, one of my greatest joys has been meeting with small-church leaders. Some times it has just been a short conversation on the telephone. For others it has been much longer conversations. In a few cases you have provided hospitality to me for one or more nights which has provided opportunities for multiple conversations.
Whatever the circumstances I have enjoyed every conversation. They have provided me with the chance to get to know you a little better. Through those conversations I have come to appreciate a common characteristic that you all seem to possess. Almost without exception you are people who are willing to sacrifice in order to fulfill God’s call on your life.
I have come to realize that not only do small-church leaders sacrifice but they are usually married to spouses who sacrifice right along side them. I know that throughout the years I would not have been able to carry on in ministry if it were not for my wife’s willingness to do without things so that the ministry could happen.
Sacrifices that most of you make
I don’t think that it so much that any of us set out to make sacrifices. It isn’t that we deliberately choose a sacrificial life. It is just that it is part of what it means to be involved in small-church ministry. Sacrifice comes with the job.
One of the realities of small-church life is that there are less funds available each year when the budget is put together. As a result pastors in small churches usually receive smaller salaries and fewer benefits than those in larger churches. The result of a smaller salary is that the person receiving it has to make sacrifices. For most of you who are reading this I don’t have to say anything more. You are living this reality each day of your life.
The primary public feature of church life takes place on a weekend. This means that pastors have to work weekends. The result is that they often can’t attend family and other events that are held on weekends because that is when everyone else has the time off. This is a sacrifice that is often overlooked.
Pastors have families and often their responsibilities to the church and to their families conflict. We have a daughter who when she was young had the wonderful gift of being able to judge when my wife and I got our schedules out of balance. She would come and tell us that we were too busy and that we needed to spend more time at home. I don’t think that she was ever wrong. We would listen to her and adjust our schedules. Families too often pay a price when the demands of church leadership get too great.
Church leadership carries with it a concern for people. Paul experienced this kind of pressure (2 Cor. 11:28). Along with all of the hardships that he faced, he gives special mentioned to his concern for the churches. One can’t serve people without a constant concern for those people. That is what makes it a twenty-four seven job. Pastors can’t simply walk out of the church at quitting time and leave it all behind.
There are many other sacrifices that I could mention but I want this to be a positive entry. If I make the list of sacrifices too long, I will put you all into a state of depression.
A word of encouragement
In the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus to ask about eternal life (Mark 10:17-31), Jesus told him to give away all that he had and to come and follow him. Jesus was making it clear right from the start that service involved sacrifice.
Peter, possibly speaking for all the disciples, asked about those who did sacrifice and Jesus replied with some of the most encouraging words found in scripture.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first.” verses 29-31
Jesus takes note of sacrifice. He balances the books. There is nothing that we might give that he doesn’t return many times over.
Whatever sacrifices you might be making in your area of ministry, Jesus sees them and takes note.
However little recognition you might receive for those sacrifices from the people for whom you make them, Jesus sees your sacrifices and will reward you for what you do.
When it seems like someone else in a larger church is getting all of the benefits, remind yourself that Jesus is watching and ultimately will reward whatever sacrifices you might make.
You don’t work hard into the night writing your sermon because your day was filled with unexpected things that Jesus doesn’t see.
You don’t make that hospital visit in the middle of the night when you would sooner be in bed that Jesus doesn’t see.
You don’t come home frustrated from a board meeting because once again what you would like to do got voted down that Jesus doesn’t see.
You don’t miss another family event because you had to work weekends that Jesus doesn’t see.
You don’t give your all to a small group of God’s people when other people are serving larger groups that Jesus doesn’t see.
Remember: it is Jesus who balances the books and he takes note of every sacrifice that you ever make.