(This was originally written on March 22, 2017.)
I was reading a blog today by a very good friend of mine who is a Pastor, and it drove me to the thoughts that I will try to express in this writing. He said something to the effect that it would be good for young preachers, who are preparing to enter the ministry, to hear more about the many trials, hardships, heartaches, and struggles that the God-called minister WILL go through in the ministry. He feels that this type of information is important lest one gets the idea that the ministry is nothing but a bed of roses, full of bliss, with multitudes just anxious to sit at your feet and benefit from all of your profound wisdom. As he puts it, some seem to have the idea that the ministry is simply “preparing 3 sermons a week and playing golf the rest of the time”. I agree with him that this is not an accurate description of the ministry (plus, I don’t even know how to play golf).
The Pastor who trained me for the ministry has over 40 years of experience in full-time ministry. I’ll never forget what he told me one time in Bible school. He said, “Brother Manny, if I knew then of all the hardships and trials I was going to go through in the ministry, I would have never entered the ministry.” That statement shocked me at the time. That was around the year 1999. Eighteen years later, I now understand exactly what he was talking about.
I’m a missionary. I have found that surrendering to the call to the mission field is equivalent to the soldier volunteering for service during war time. General William Sherman, who fought in the Civil War, said, “War is hell!” Biblically speaking, nothing is worse than hell. But war would have to be the closest thing to hell.
If you enlist into the military during war time, you are agreeing to submit yourself to the possibility of suffering some of the most horrible calamities a human being can possibly experience at the hands of another human being. You may get stabbed. You may get shot. You may be tortured. You may get a limb blown off. You might get your head chopped off. You may have your skin melted off your bones from a nuclear attack. You might get captured and thrown in a prison camp where you’ll starve to death or die from some disease due to unsanitary conditions. There’s no limitation to what you might suffer.
If you do survive, you’ll never be the same again. War will change your life forever. (Think about this the next time the war-tattered veteran missionary comes off the field.) Not just because of the physical afflictions that you’ll face for the rest of your life but the emotional and mental trauma as well.
Now you may be thinking, “C’mon Bro. Manny, don’t be so over-dramatic! I don’t think this comparison you’re trying to pull off here is applicable.” But consider this. We are soldiers in the Lord’s army. Paul told the young preacher, Timothy, in 2nd Timothy 2:3 “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
The point I’m getting to is as soldiers of the cross we also have an enemy. A powerful enemy. In fact, the same enemy. The same enemy that diabolically inspires a human enemy to do such unthinkable atrocities to another human being is the same one that attacks the man of God. Our adversary is the devil.
For a reference as to what the devil is capable of doing to a believer, read the book of Job. Then consider that if the devil would have his way, he’d do the SAME things to you and me.
The minister faces this enemy perhaps more than the average Christian. He definitely attacks all who are serving the Lord. If he’s not giving you a hard time, it’s probably because you’re not doing much. The devil is not going to go after the believer who does nothing and has no godly impact upon others. Why would he? He’s already got them right where he wants them. But the man of God doing the will of God? Now there’s a trophy!
I do not wish to pretend that the things I’ve “suffered” since I started preaching God’s word on a street corner back in 1996 are comparable to what real sufferers of old have had to endure. But to the point of this article, I do wish to paint a more sobering picture of what one may face if he answers the call to the ministry.
Let me share with you the kind of stuff you’ll never read about in my prayer letters. An elderly Pastor advised a congregation full of missionaries, of which I was in attendance, to keep the prayer letters positive. To only write about the good stuff. Souls saved, Christians getting right with the Lord, men being called to preach, churches being planted, progress, blessings, etc. But as the Pastor who inspired me to write this little blog post said, perhaps it might be good if people got a more realistic and sobering presentation of what the ministry is really like. So here goes!
The truth is that for several years I did not sleep well. I have gone through many sleepless nights with my mind consumed with the problems, betrayals, lies, needs, worries, tribulations, etc. of the people I minister to. The truth is that for years I felt like quitting on a daily basis. One time I actually did quit, and the Lord’s chastening got me back in the way. The stress of the ministry can many times be overwhelming (see Psalm 143:4). You feel a pain in your chest as if something huge like a piano or a bunch of cement blocks are laying on top of your chest. This pain comes from the burden made of all the problems of your people that you carry. If you don’t learn how to get close to God in prayer and become relieved of this stress, you’ll eventually be crushed by the weight of the burden as it grows bigger and bigger.
This is why many ministers quit. This is also why many ministers are forced out of the ministry after falling into immorality. Instead of handling the stresses of the ministry the godly way, they seek relief elsewhere and this opens the door to lustful temptations. EVERY preacher must learn to conquer the stresses of the ministry or they will fall just like every other mighty man that ever fell.
In regards to loss of sleep over stress, I have learned to deal with it better through my relationship with the Lord. So I do sleep better these days. Praise the Lord!
What kind of stresses? The stress of people that you love and give your life to who turn around and betray you, stab you in the back, criticize you, slander you, lie and gossip about you, ridicule you, etc. Yet, you have to continue to love them anyways, as the Lord loves them, and continue to try to help them as they continue to try to hurt you.
There’s the stress that comes with dealing with those who won’t do right no matter how hard you pray for them, preach to them, counsel them, reprove them, love them, try to encourage them, instruct them, yet despite all your efforts it seems like your well-thought out words just go through one ear and out the other. That gets tiresome after a while. Yet the man of God deals with this all the time and always will. Some get weary once they realize that this is their life now and so they drop out. They don’t feel the stress is worth it.
It’s almost as if no matter how much you try, your efforts are like invisible sometimes. One man of whom I probably visited on a weekly basis complained that I didn’t visit him enough. I spent many times ministering to this man as he would beg me with tears to help him with his issues. I woke up many times in the middle of the night, like around 2 to 3 in the morning, to answer his calls and minister to him. He begged me to win his sons to the Lord. I did my best to witness to all of them and one of them even made a profession of faith. Were my efforts appreciated? Well you decide. This man doesn’t come to church anymore. He claims that I refuse to visit him despite the ridiculous amount of times I visited him for years. This man eventually threatened to sue my church.
One family one time claimed that I refused to pay my final electric bill before moving out even though we have a copy of the bill showing that the total amount was paid for. The electric company confirmed to us several times that the bill was paid up, yet this did not stop one of the family members from calling my church treasurer and lying to her about us not paying our bills. Folks from this family now go around lying to others about us despite the fact that I preached 2 funerals for them. On one of these occasions they called me exactly 2 hours before the funeral service to ask if I could conduct the funeral service because the Pastor who was supposed to do it cancelled on them at the last minute (who does that?!). So, I dropped everything and went. Was it appreciated? You tell me.
One of the members of this same family is a man that we used to feed on almost a daily basis. We gave him work at our church and paid him for it. One time he got sick and so we used church money (with the agreement of the church) to buy him food and medicine. Did he appreciate our efforts? You tell me. He doesn’t go to our church anymore and now speaks evil of us.
One lady tells folks in our small town that I kicked her out of church and refused to allow her to give a word of testimony. The truth is that I never kicked her out of church and I actually allowed her to give a testimony for about 20 minutes. I had to cut her off because it was during my preaching time on Sunday morning. She was offended that I didn’t give her more time despite the fact that half the time I normally use for preaching was taken up by her “testimony”. In fact, some of the members were upset with me for allowing for her to go so long. This is a lady who battled depression. My wife and I visited her many times to pray for her and help her through her depression issues. Did she appreciate it? You tell me.
One local Pastor tells his people that I am the reason that his nephew is now in prison. His people get the impression that I am a horrible human being and Pastor because how could I allow this to be so. Yet the truth is that his nephew robbed us. His nephew robbed others. His nephew robbed a local school of over $10,000 dollars. He ran from the law and was eventually caught in the US and thrown in prison. We are victims of this thief. He robbed us! Yet, somehow it is my fault that he is in prison. Somehow, I am a horrible Christian and a charlatan of a Pastor for allowing this thief to rot in prison. It’s all my fault. This thief was the first man I ever witnessed to in Puerto Rico. We would have his family over for dinner many times. I loaned him my car many times. We helped him in many ways. Were our efforts appreciated? You tell me.
I could go on and on. I don’t have time to talk about the many times I preached to a near empty room with only 1 or 2 folks present, outside of my family, and this after staying up all night to study, pray, and prepare a sermon. I don’t have the time to talk about the one man and his mother who we were bringing to church. He eventually raped and beat his mother to death and is now in prison. I don’t have the time to talk about the elderly man of whom we were sooooo close to winning to the Lord but then he got run over by a car and killed. Talk about disappointment!
Time would fail me and honestly, I don’t enjoy sharing such stories. I prefer to write about what I normally write about in my prayer letters. Souls saved, lives changed, marriages repaired, men called to preach, churches established, etc. That stuff is a lot more enjoyable to write about, but if this stuff might help some young minister, then so be it. To God be all the glory!
Besides, my “trials” are really only light afflictions in comparison to what other missionaries have suffered. Time would fail me to talk about missionaries I know of whose wives were raped, their houses were burned down, were forced to pay drug cartel members or die, others who were kidnapped, others who were imprisoned at the bidding of the local Catholic priest, and some who were actually murdered. Time would fail me to talk about my missionary friend who had a gun pressed against his chest and the trigger pulled only to have the gun malfunction as God miraculously spared his life. Time would fail me to talk about my close missionary friend who contacted an incurable disease in the jungles that he will live with for the rest of his life yet when he came to the U.S. and had the opportunity to make a life for himself stateside with access to better medical treatment, he instead chose to go back to the same jungles, with his wife and kids, to preach the Gospel despite the pain and weakness he suffers daily. Time would fail me to talk about the one missionary who had his fingers chopped off for distributing Bibles in a Muslim country, or the other one who had both hands chopped off for refusing to tell the authorities where he was hiding his Bibles.
So why? Why do we do this when the ministry is full of troubles and heartaches? I know what it’s like to become so weak at the knees from the stress of the ministry that I collapsed to the ground, weeping uncontrollably, and couldn’t find the strength to get back up till about an hour later. I know what it’s like to see my wife, a strong woman who served in the military, weep over the stresses of the ministry. I know what it’s like to see my kids come home weeping because of the mistreatment of jealous neighborhood kids whose wayward parents hate us for preaching against their fornication and wickedness. I know what it’s like to see my 6-year-old come home with blood trickling down her face because of wicked kids who have even worse parents. (Of course, this doesn’t happen anymore. Daddy has taught his kids how to defend themselves and they do it pretty well as they’ve demonstrated several times by putting a whoopin on the bullies.)
So why? Why go onward in the ministry when its so full of stress and tribulation? I’ll tell you why.
Last Sunday, we had 5 adult souls come forward for salvation. A couple weeks prior, another adult trusted Christ as Saviour.
I’ll tell you why. I’m about to ordain a man into the ministry who I’ve trained for the past several years. This man was a drug addict, alcoholic, and was in prison on 4 separate occasions. He got saved in prison, became my right hand man, fell in love with our church secretary. They got married (I performed their wedding) and now they have a beautiful little girl with another on the way. This man now goes to the same exact street corners, every Saturday morning, where he used to shoot heroin and beg for money, and now he passes out Gospel tracts and preaches on those same spots. (Take that Satan!)
I’ll tell you why we do it. I have about 8 souls up for baptism right now.
I’ll tell you why we do it. A little girl in the church a while back drew me a picture and wrote the words over it, “I love you Pastor”.
I’ll tell you why we do it. An atheist man, who used to believe in evolution, got saved and now believes in a literal 6 day creation. He faithfully attends a Baptist church with his daughter who had been praying for his salvation for years.
I’ll tell you why we do it. A young couple that used to “shack up” got saved and later asked me to officiate their wedding. The young man preaches on the streets with me and his wife teaches a children’s Sunday school class.
I’ll tell you why we do it. One of the individuals who got saved last Sunday was a lady of whom her mother asked our church to pray for her salvation for 6 years straight. Her mother passed away a month ago. But that didn’t stop God from answering the dear sister’s prayer. God can answer prayer even when your dead! (Actually not dead, absent from the body and present with the Lord)
I’ll tell you the #1 reason why we do it. Because Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins!
I’ll tell you why else we do it. Because we’re soldiers! We’re warriors! Warriors fight on. Soldiers obey their superior. The more we obey the Lord, the more He strengthens us to give us victory.
This isn’t a game to us. We fight on. We march onward. We’ve got a mission. And we don’t want to let our General down. He’s worthy!
So yeah, the ministry is not all rainbows and sunshine. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved. But considering what the Lord Jesus Christ went through on the cross of Calvary to rescue my rotten soul from hell, He’s worth it!
So fight on Christian soldier. Onward! Don’t worry, the battle will be over with one day. And the retirement will be out of this world! But until then, fight, fight, FIGHT! Earnestly contend for the faith! Keep marching forward for the glory of God!
Ephesians 6:10-12 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”