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Stress in Serving Jesus

By March 1, 2001July 21st, 2015No Comments

by W. Wilbert Welch

Ministry is no bed of roses—whether it be the mission field or pastorate, or whether it be ministering to 50 or 5,000 people. If ministry momentarily seems to be a fragrant rose bed, be aware that every rose has thorns. Yet the thorns may be God’s prescription for us to experience growth and grace. Don’t pull away from the pricks; they may be there to redirect our life’s work.

Fix your mind’s eye on a young eaglet that has come to a time of maturity, the time to learn to fly. The mother eagle “stirs up” the nest (see Deuteronomy 32:11) so that it is no longer the comfort zone of earlier days. Because of the pain of the now-felt thorns, the eaglet is willing to trust its mother, to move timidly from the security of the nest, and to learn that the very sky it feared provides a freedom it has never known.

Consider something Paul must have penned on a Monday morning: “We are hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9). But note also his response: “not crushed . . . not in despair . . . not forsaken . . . not destroyed.”

Notice Paul’s vocabulary when writing 2 Corinthians: affliction, anguish, beatings, distresses, fasting, fights, labors, perils, persecutions, sorrows, stripes, sufferings, tears, tumults, weakness (see Scofield’s notes). How would we like these words in our pastoral job description?

Pressures and tensions are not entirely bad for the ministry. Actually, tension can be good. The best piano cannot be an instrument of quality music unless the strings have controlled tension. How then shall the pastor respond? Rebel, criticize, condemn, resign, drop out of the ministry? Paul responded positively; he said, “We do not lose heart” in the ministry because “we have received mercy” (2 Corinthians 4:1).

The ministry can be the most stress-producing of all callings. We live in a pressure-cooker culture. Major corporations fail annually because of the pressures of competition, and many more file for bankruptcy protection. Homes are failing. The family pattern is damaged. Educational systems are under fire. Major corporations are in jeopardy. Great automotive industries and renowned merchandise companies no longer exist.

The lesson we must learn is this: If mammoth corporations face stress, failure, even extinction, let us recognize that Biblical, fundamental churches and pastors have a brilliant strategist who opposes them 24 hours a day. He is an antagonist who may have little interest in IBM, General Motors, or J. C. Penney, but he has great interest in destroying our ministry. If pastors of this decade are to have enjoyable and fruitful ministries, they must recognize the sources of stress, recognize God’s purpose in allowing stress, and then appropriate Biblical responses to stress.

Some pertinent questions we should face are these: (1) What are recognizable causes of stress? (2) What is our pliability quotient when living under stress? (3) Does the God Who called us into ministry also help us through ministry stresses? (4) Are we allowing God to stretch us?

God designed stress.

What is meant by “ministry stress”? Ministry stress is internal strain caused by our response to pressure. It isn’t so much what happens to us but rather how we respond to what happens. It is the 10 percent versus the 90 percent formula. Note again 2 Corinthians 4:8–10. Paul was a realist. He never denied the reality or magnitude of stress, but his response was exemplary: “not crushed”; “not in despair”; “not forsaken”; “not destroyed.” He saw the hand of God behind these stress producers and recognized that his experiences were ultimately for his enrichment.

All effects have causes. Remember, stress is a product, not a cause. Remember, too, that stress also has a product, and the product of stress is more visible and recognizable than the cause of stress.

Recognizable products of physical stress include abnormal fatigue, irregular pulse, high blood pressure, back pain, ulcers, sleeplessness, and other symptoms not readily diagnosed. In the spiritual and emotional areas of life, the stress symptoms may surface as irritability, robot performance, loss of enjoyment, resignation, and even questioning one’s call to the ministry. Medical journals report that as high as 70 percent of sickness is related to unresolved stress. A pastor should be sensitive to stress symptoms but reject becoming a ministry hypochondriac.

The question remains then, Why is a pastor a likely target? The one who knows and preaches about peace, rest, and joy, and knows the provisions for an anxiety-free life—why should he experience stress? Here are some observable causes of a pastor’s stress: the directed activity of Satan; the ministry temperament; playing the role of God as shepherd, bishop, and elder; forgetting that this treasure is an earthen vessel; the abnormal, irregular demands on his time; and the fantastic expectations of his people. His very calling creates these causes.

God helps us cope.

Is the pastor able to adjust? He cannot escape the causes of stress, but in some situations he can be his own physician. Most pastors have learned some form of preventative medicine or healing therapy.

Ask yourself the following questions: What is my pliability quotient on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most able to cope with ministry pressure? Has it improved in the recent two, five, or ten years? We recognize that personality has significant bearing on our pliability quotient, but we still have a will by which we make choices. We can elevate our pliability, live longer, and serve more effectively by

  • Abiding in the Vine (John 15:4, 5)
  • Obeying implicitly His commands (John 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s ministry (Romans 8:9, 12–14)
  • Seeking counsel from tested, mature believers (Proverbs 15:22)
  • Training others and delegating responsibilities to them (Acts 6:3; 2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Setting aside times for fun and family and for quality quiet times with the Lord

God enables us for ministry.

The minister’s stress survival checkbook is in God’s hands. Let us write checks daily for the “all things” deposit of 2 Peter 1:3. Paul clearly stated that the Lord Who called him to serve also enabled him (1 Timothy 1:12). Did Paul have full knowledge of all his provisions in the hour the Lord met him on the Damascus highway? Certainly not! He himself said, “I have learned . . .” (Philippians 4:11). Drawing daily upon our spiritual checking account is a learning process. Take note of these spiritual riches available not only to every called servant of the Lord but also to every follower of Christ:

  • When our primary pursuit is to see God, He blesses us (Matthew 6:33).
  • The Holy Spirit energizes (Philippians 2:13).
  • We can recognize the perfect will of God in our lives (Romans 12:2).
  • Moment by moment, we should draw upon the sufficiency of God’s grace, acknowledging at the beginning of each day our helplessness and praying for victory (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • We should be ready to learn contentment as Paul did (Philippians 4:11).

God’s purpose is for our enrichment.

A full surrender of the total person permits us to become the total ministers whom God called and enabled us to be. Pride, selfishness, and rigidity are the minister’s greatest obstacles to the enrichment that God desires of His ministers. To Andrew and Peter, Jesus said, “Come after Me, and I will make you . . .” (Mark 1:17). Our flesh resists the “making” process, but without that sometimes-painful journey, Peter, the rough fisherman, could never have become the preacher God intended him to be.

Do you want to be made of God?

W. Wilbert Welch was chancellor of Cornerstone University at the time of this article’s publication in the March 2001 Baptist Bulletin. He went to be with the Lord on July 16, 2015.