Mr. Chairman, Graduate Moore, Members of the Theological School Committee, Fathers and Brethren of the Synod, and Brethren and Sisters gathered with us:
By personal experience and by observation, I know that there are times in the life of a minister of the Word—and especially in the life of a youthful and new and inexperienced minister of the Word—when his outlook tends to become gloomy, when his attitude becomes pessimistic, when his spirit becomes dejected, and when his zeal for the cause and for the labor wanes.
There may be various occasions and reasons for such an attitude of pessimism and such dejection of spirit. In part, it may be a somewhat natural reaction. Periods of vibrant enthusiasm and zeal are rather naturally followed by a decline into gloom and pessimism. And again, especially the youthful minister who has just set out upon the labors of the ministry may find himself beset by this problem. He begins his labors with zeal and enthusiasm, and perhaps with a bit of unrealistic idealism. Perhaps he expects that his enthusiasm will be contagious, that it will meet with immediate and like response on the part of his congregation; perhaps he has intentions of “setting the church aflame.” But his congregation, he forgets, is not new and is not just setting out upon its course. And when the youthful minister discovers, to his dismay and chagrin, that his enthusiasm does not kindle a like response, but that the work of the ministry is a matter of steady, plodding labors and long-term and not always immediately visible results, that there are disappointments as well as pleasures, he becomes disheartened, gloomy, dejected. His spirit faints, and his zeal wanes. Partly, in some instances, such pessimism may be induced by a rather matter-of-fact attitude on the part of a congregation and consistory who, while they may be appreciative, do not readily express that appreciation and fail to realize that there are times when a minister of the gospel, especially a youthful one, is in need of words of encouragement and appreciation. One congregation differs from another in this regard, even as one minister differs from another in his need of such expressions of encouragement. Moreover, congregations may well keep this in mind; and elders may well remember that in a sense they must serve as the pastor’s pastor. But at the moment I am merely pointing to this as a possible factor in a minister’s pessimism and dejection of spirit. Yet a third occasion for weariness of spirit and waning zeal on the part of a minister—and who has not known such times—may be the presence of opposition and difficulties and strife, which may always arise in the church militant, and which may frequently constitute a severe test and trial for a pastor, especially when he is confronted by such difficulties for the first time in his ministry. There is nothing more wearing, more wearisome, more draining of energy and zeal, than prolonged difficulties within one’s congregation, whether they be in the form of opposition to the pastor or in. the form of trouble among the members mutually. Even for the veteran minister such difficulties frequently constitute a severe trial and may be the occasion of a marked loss of courage and of zest for his labors. But again, when a youthful minister for the first time must face such a battle-test, it seems sometimes that he is awakened to the stark realities of ecclesiastical life in the church militant with a jolt, even though theoretically he knew all along that he was called to labor in the midst of an imperfect church. Thus a crisis is precipitated in his ministry. And, though first he may even react with courage and resoluteness, not infrequently his reaction may change to one of gloomy pessimism. He becomes disillusioned and disenchanted. The preparation and delivery of sermons becomes a heavy chore rather than a pleasure; pastoral calls become a burden rather than a delight; the lengthy wranglings of a consistory meeting he comes to dread. Perhaps he has moments when he rues the day that he accepted the call to congregation X, and he wishes that he were out of the ministry or that he might receive a call elsewhere.
For more than one reason, therefore, it is well that our attention be called to this subject of the “Joy of the Ministry” and to the calling to rejoice in the ministry which the Lord has given to His church, and particularly to those who serve or purpose to serve as ministers of His Word. In the first place, there is the reason that the Word of God always presents such a joy as the proper stance, the proper attitude, of the minister of the gospel. If you look at a chapter like II Corinthians 4, which our chairman read this evening, you may well conclude that the apostle Paul had plenty of reasons to be gloomy and dejected. Yet he says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, . . . we faint not!” That is simply a negative way of stating that he rejoiced in this ministry. And this is the current thought of Scripture and the consistent example of all the apostles. They rejoiced in the ministry which the Lord gave them. In the second place, there’ is the reason that the Lord does not want gloomy and grumbling and dissatisfied servants, but cheerful and content and willing ministers. Such an attitude of gloom and dejection is wrong! And, in the third place, quite understandably, one’s outlook and attitude very soon affect his labors and the quality of his labors and the faithfulness of his labors in various ways. This is the very real practical reason.
For all these reasons, then, we may profitably consider “The Joy of the Ministry.”
The Nature of the Minister’s Joy
It is not easy to define joy. It is perhaps easier to feel it, to know it by experience, than to define it. But let us attempt to analyze the idea and mention some of the elements of real, spiritual joy and rejoicing.
In the first place, of course, joy is the very opposite of a gloomy, dejected, morbid, languishing attitude and outlook. The latter may be in some instances acute and temporary. A minister of the gospel, as any child of God, may experience times of spiritual darkness. Such times of spiritual darkness may be due to some sin which he has committed in his ministry or in his personal life, a sin in which he persists for a time and is unwilling to confess and forsake. Or, as I already suggested, it may be due to some stress, due to opposition and strife and trouble. At such times, either because a minister misunderstands and loses sight of the realities of the sin and imperfection of the church militant and of his calling in the midst of that church, or because he has the personal, spiritual difficulty that he cannot, for a time blend his will with the will of the Lord, he may pass through a period of very acute, though temporary, spiritual darkness. Sometimes, however, such an attitude of gloom may be chronic and rather permanent, so that a minister of the Word can never fully and freely appropriate and serve with gladness in his calling as ambassador of Christ. Usually in such instances, I think, the problem is connected with a deeper problem, that of such a minister’s doubt and lack of personal assurance as a child of God. Needless to say, such doubt and gloom, such a morbid state in which a minister never or hardly ever rejoices, assumes its worst form when it is systematically defended as if it were really the normal state.
In the second place, and positively, this joy of the ministry certainly means that the minister is filled with gladness of heart and mind because of his calling and his place in the midst of the church and in the labors of the cause of Christ. It includes, too, that he manifests this joy. This joy is the underlying and fundamental attitude and outlook of his ministry. The manifestation of this joy takes place, first of all, before the Lord, so that the minister acknowledges it and speaks of it before Him: his joy becomes manifest in the expression of thankfulness to the Lord. But it also follows, secondly, that this manifestation of joy finds expression in the midst of the church and in the minister’s labors. This joy inspires him and motivates him in all his labors in the midst of the church, so that he labors not out of a sense of compulsion, not out of a feeling that his ministry is a forced and well-nigh unbearable burden, but with willingness and devotion, with zeal and confidence’ and faithfulness.
All this implies and includes what belongs to the Christian joy generally. We must remember that Scripture also speaks frequently of this joy and of the calling of the child of God to rejoice always. And this joy is implied in and presupposed in this joy of the ministry. This Christian joy implies a full and clear knowledge of the riches of salvation in Christ: the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, holiness, peace, eternal life and glory, and the knowledge that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose. It implies an assured possession and personal appropriation of these riches of salvation in Christ. Moreover, it presupposes a walk in sanctification of life: for in the ways of sin and of the world it is impossible to have that assured and personal possession of the riches of salvation in Christ Jesus, and it is impossible to rejoice in the Lord. This means, therefore, that the minister of the Word must bespiritual. He must be a spiritually-minded man.
But in particular the joy of the ministry implies several elements. In the first place, it implies a full and clear knowledge on the part of the minister that God through the Lord Christ has called him to be a minister of the Word. Without this, the joy of the ministry is impossible. In the second place, it implies a full and clear knowledge and conviction with respect to the message which the minister is commissioned to bring. Without this also, the true joy of the ministry is impossible. For how shall an ambassador of Christ rejoice in his ministry unless he knows and is convicted of his message and of the fact that the message he brings is indeed the message of his Sender? In the third place, to rejoice in one’s ministry presupposes an assured and personal appropriation and confidence of one’s calling and of the fact that it indeed pleases the Lord Christ to use him for the gathering and up building of His church. And all this, in the fourth place, presupposes a walk in obedience to that calling and a willingness to be used by the Lord for His great work of church-gathering.
It ought to be evident that such joy is only “in the Lord.” Even as this is true of the joy of the children of God in general, so it is true specifically of the joy of the ministry. Such joy cannot be founded on anything outside of the Lord. Outside of Christ we lie in the midst of death; and therefore outside of Christ we have nothing in which to rejoice and nothing of which to boast whatsoever. There is no real joy possible outside of our Lord Jesus Christ. True joy, also the true joy of the ministry, is only on the ground of the blood and merits of Christ and only on the ground of the work of His grace.
(To be continued)