Do you ever wonder why God keeps calling morons into the ministry? As I ask this, I’m not looking around the country. I am looking square into the mirror.
It is tempting to think only about the high-profile ministry meltdowns. For example, Judas famously betrayed Jesus; Peter denied him; and Thomas doubted him. But didn’t they all desert Jesus? “Then they all deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50, CSB).
If you’re a pastor who has failed and is having a hard time moving forward, I pray these four morsels of gospel hope in Mark 14 will be an encouragement to you.
SOVEREIGNTY: Jesus knew your failures when He called you
We see the apostles celebrating the Passover and singing in one verse. And in the very next verse, Jesus flatly declares that they will all desert Him. That must have been a mood killer!
“All of you will fall away, because it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27b-28, CSB).
One of the most alarming aspects of this prediction is that it is rooted in a prophecy dated hundreds of years before it happened: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, CSB).
Pastor, I am not minimizing our failures, but I am normalizing them. In my observation, as pastors, we put more pressure on ourselves than our members do—and sometimes more than our Savior does.
GRACE: You will need copious amounts of grace to lead a ministry
Although Thomas the Apostle is best known for his worst moment, in India he is known primarily as the hero who travelled further than any other apostle to advance the gospel. Whether Thomas was serving in season or out of season, he was simultaneously working as both a recipient of and herald of the grace of God. This grace dynamic likewise applies to us today.
“This grace was given to me — the least of all the saints — to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8, CSB).
Judas chose guilt over grace because he could not see a life or ministry on the other side of his shame. But the same grace that applied to our call to salvation, also applies to our call to ministry. Do you need to embrace that grace today?
GROWTH: Our failures are an opportunity for growth
Immediately after Jesus told the future apostles that they would all fall away, Peter exclaims, “‘Even if everyone falls away, I will not.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to him, ‘today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he kept insisting, ‘If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.’ And they all said the same thing” (Mark 14:29-31, CSB).
Let’s face it, Peter is an easy target because of his well-earned reputation for overreaching and overreacting. His hubris is not that unusual for rookie pastors who have not yet experienced the agony of defeat.
My greatest season of growth as a pastor was also one of my most painful ones. Fifteen years ago, I experienced the darkness of clinical depression, the pain of a staff-led church split, and the rebellion of a wayward child in the same season. Up to that time, I had experienced two decades of uninterrupted success as a lead pastor. God used that painful season to shave off some sharp edges that would have inevitably damaged the second half of my ministry. And He used that pain to make me a better person, a better pastor, and, eventually, a pastor advocate for leaders like you.
Although I would prefer to learn from other people’s pain, there is something to be said about learning from my own.
RESILIENCE: Bouncing back from adversity
“Then he came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Mark 14:37-38, CSB).
Peter, James, and John carried a heavier leadership load than the others. Sometimes they were competitive and even combative in their misguided attempts to protect Jesus and their peers. Who else falls asleep three times in a prayer meeting only to wake up and charge a group of armed soldiers and servants with a fisherman’s knife?
The “Rock “and “Sons of Thunder” did not mature overnight. But over the course of time, they would share the capacity to persevere through their failures. In doing so, they inspired countless others to do the same.
In Luke’s version of this same account, after Jesus warns Peter of Satan’s intentions to sift him like wheat, he added, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32, CSB).
Regardless of how you have, or will, disappoint Jesus, take a moment to receive the grace you preached about last Sunday then bounce back and go strengthen another brother.
Thanks, Brother Mark, for this article. This was much needed because I too, look in the mirror, especially after what I call a “bad day” in my calling and I ask myself the same thing you mentioned, how could God call a “moron” like me into ministry. It has taken a few dark valley experiences to know that first of all, I’m not called to do this alone. So, I have surrouned myself with a Paul( older mature brother) a Barabbas (an encourager) and a Timothy (a younger brother). This has helped tremendously. Thanks again for the concern and care you give to us pastors. Praying for you and Janet. God bless you both.
God bless you James for this encouraging note, as well as the good advice about mentors & mentees. Life and ministry are too hard to do alone!