In his book, The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Preach the Word, author Rick Reed identifies one of the tensions that I wrestle with periodically—the desire to be significant.
In a chapter entitled, “Insignificance,” the author explains,
Most pastors will always be relatively unknown. We may serve a city church lost in a larger metropolis. We may serve a rural church, located on the outskirts of obscurity. Sure, we’ll be known to the people in our congregations. But beyond that—not so much. Our sermons may be on our church website, but they won’t go viral.
Most of the time, that’s just fine. Most of the time, when busy serving Christ and his people, we don’t think too much about it. We enjoy our calling and find satisfaction in serving. Besides, we went into ministry to be faithful, not famous.
But sometimes, unexpectedly, something will surface our latent insecurity, hearing about the exponential growth happening at a friends’ church or reading an article by a seminary friend who now leads a high-profile ministry. We can feel diminished by a comment made at a pastors’ lunch, or even the well-meaning words of one of our kids in the backseat. As we compare ourselves with others or with our own unspoken hopes and dreams, we suddenly feel small and unimportant. We find ourselves facing the heart test of insignificance.
I can certainly identify with what the author has presented. When I graduated from seminary 35 years ago, I aspired to be on a church staff for 5-10 years and then teach in a college or seminary. When I became a senior pastor, I aspired to lead a church of 500-1,000 and train pastors around the world. When I published my first article, I aspired to write and publish best-selling books. I have realized very few of the dreams.
Today, I pastor a church under 200 people. The magazines I used to write for are now out of print. I wrote a book manuscript that received several, “Thanks, but no thanks,” responses from publishers. I have never been invited to speak in a college or seminary chapel as a “successful” pastor. I do teach an occasional online course as an adjunct professor and go to Russia once a year to teach a 3-day course for pastors and leaders.
I recently reread a book by Pastor R. Kent Hughes, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome. It reminded me that God has called me to be faithful, not successful. Ultimately, he is the one who will evaluate my ministry when I stand before him, not my peers or the general public.
Author Rick Reed concludes his chapter on Insignificance with a helpful thought.
What should we do on days when feelings of insignificance darken our outlook and diminish our joy? How should we respond when our hearts become restless and discontented with our ministry placement? We must preach to our own hearts. We must remind ourselves that it is too soon to know the significance of our service. Serving with passion and faithfulness is what God asks of us today. This is what makes a Christian well-known to Jesus. This is how we become, like Paul, a well-known unknown.
I need to take the lessons from Rick and Kent to heart and focus on serving Christ faithfully.