I know of a number of pastors over the years who have served Christ’s church quite faithfully, some for numerous years, even decades. What everyone can easily perceive is the number of years that a pastor has served. Watchful eyes in the congregation will mark the passing anniversaries and alert other members of the church that important markers are soon upon them, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, or forty years. Thoughtful congregations want to mark these anniversaries and do so with celebrations, plaques, or even special gifts.
On several occasions, though, I have known of pastors who have been somewhat disappointed at the lack of recognition they have received from their churches. After serving in the ministry for thirty years some have expected a nice all-expense paid vacation, a sizeable bonus, or perhaps even something more generous given the affluence of the congregation but they have been disappointed at the somewhat paltry recognition, at least in their eyes. At first glance some might think that the pastor is a bit selfish for thinking along these lines. After all, why should he expect a handsome gift for his service?
Well, what many in the church do not realize is that pastors often labor under very difficult circumstances. They work long hours. For example, few know that a faithful pastor will prepare anywhere between ten to twenty hours to deliver a thirty-minute sermon, and some pastors preach two sermons a week. Few people know that pastors often counsel people when they are at their worst moments in life, suffering from great loss, committing great sin, or inflicting division upon the church. These scenarios can be very draining upon the pastor. I can remember on a number of occasions talking to members of my church at all hours of the night because life doesn’t occur during office hours but around the clock.
In addition to this few realize that the pastor’s family lives under constant scrutiny, “What movie did you watch?” “What did your children do?” “Why is your wife wearing that dress?” And when I once pulled up in a rental car, which was necessary for traveling to denominational meetings, and someone commented, “Gee, we sure seem to pay you a lot more money than we need to!” After multiple years of this type of pressure and faithful humble service, I think it’s somewhat natural that a pastor might think that his congregation would want to recognize his faithful and humble service. But the truth is, many congregations do not recognize the service of their pastor.
All of this is to say that for anyone who believes he is called to serve in the ministry, he has to realize that seeking to be obedient to the call of Christ and performing his ministry coram deo must be the sole-driving force of his ministry. His aim must be to seek the approval of Christ himself. The only thing, in the end, that can truly satisfy the pastor’s heart is Christ’s, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In other words, pastors, indeed all Christians, must seek contentment in Christ and not the approval of man. If pastors thrive off of the recognition of their congregation, they will quickly run out of spiritual energy and motivation. But if his sole source of contentment comes from Christ, then when recognition and gifts come, he will give thanks, and when no one but Christ recognizes his sacrifice and service, he will give thanks. Therein lies the contented heart, and therein lies the heart of a pastor.