Aspiration and imitation are a natural part of life. Little boys and girls aspire to run or shoot like their favorite athletes. Writers aspire to craft sentences like their favorite authors. Young preachers aspire to exposit Scripture like the pastors streaming on their smartphone.
It’s only natural that people emulate those who perform some skill or gift at a high level. We are designed to strive after that which is greater than us.
There are many aspiring pastors and missionaries who want to emulate their heroes in the faith. They want to preach to the masses like Charles Spurgeon or, like William Carey, be the pioneer who takes the Good News to a land that has no gospel witness.
Desiring to have a fruitful or successful ministry is not wrong in itself, but here are a few suggestions for those dreaming of having a book-worthy life.
Examine Your Heart
While wanting to have a lasting impact for the kingdom of Christ can be good and holy, the desire is often rooted in vanity. Many ministers have been led astray by the allure of a book deal or notoriety rather than the desire to see Christ glorified.
This component is so difficult to observe and judge from the outside. A pastor can labor for decades without showing the deepest motivation for his work. Is it toil for the glory of Christ or to build a Christ-veneered monument to one’s own glory?
Brother or sister, examine your heart to see what is feeding your desire. Pray that the Lord would root out any idols driving your pursuit of ministry. Few things are sadder than the thought of giving one’s life to Christian ministry, all for the sake of vainglory.
Regularly reading biographies is a great way to gain insight into the lives of those faithful leaders who have gone before us. It is tempting to focus solely on the numerical fruit of a spiritual giant’s ministry, but good biographies take us deeper, showing us the imperfections of the minister, as well as the hardships they experienced. As you read, you will begin to see a common theme that runs through the stories of most brothers and sisters who experienced ministerial “success”: Those whom the Lord uses most are often those who know suffering most intimately.
Spurgeon knew the sensation of preaching to tens of thousands, but he also knew the sensation of intense pain, caused by the breakneck pace of his life and ministry. Consider the words he penned to his congregation after experiencing gout and smallpox: “The furnace still glows around me. Since I last preached to you, I have been brought very low; my flesh has been tortured with pain and my spirit has been prostrate with depression…With some difficulty I write these lines in my bed, mingling them with the groans of pain and the songs of hope” (Dallimore, Spurgeon: A Biography).
Calvin experienced the joy of sending out church planters around the world, but he also experienced excruciating pain from a deluge of physical illnesses. William Carey had the joy of taking the gospel to an area of the world where it was not known, but the toll it took on his family makes his story almost unbearable to read.
In discussing his own suffering, the apostle Paul told the Colossian church that he was “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Paul’s life was marked by intense suffering as a means by which believers might catch a glimpse of Jesus’ own suffering. Similarly, many of those saints whom we admire had the same experience as our brother Paul. Affliction was a constant companion for them.
Reading through biographies takes some of the romanticism out of ministry. If you desire the ministry of a Lottie Moon or a George Whitefield, read about their life. See their suffering. Count the cost.
Know Yourself and Your Gifts
As much as we may want to have the preaching ministry of Spurgeon or the literary output of Calvin, most of us will never match that level of quality or quantity. Why? Simply put, the Lord has given them uncommonly strong gifts. Few preachers in the history of the Church mixed clarity and winsomeness like Spurgeon. Likewise, few theologians throughout the centuries have had the theological acumen and capacity to match Calvin’s productivity.
As ministers, we must strive to excel in our giftings. I strive to improve as a preacher and a writer, but I also must humbly acknowledge the degree of my own gifts. Christ has graciously given me gifts to serve his church, and I am called to be faithful with those gifts, not to covet the gifts that other servants of Christ possess.
In his infinite wisdom and love, your triune Lord has given you the exact gifts that you need to faithfully carry out the ministry he has laid before you. He is not a miser who only gives out the crumbs from his wealth. He has lavished you in grace, and your ministerial gifts are a part of the outpouring of grace.
Find Contentment in Christ
As we consider our own gifts and the ministries the Lord has called us to, it is vital for us to remember Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 6:6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” We can buy into the lie that life would be far better if we had greater gifts or had a bigger platform, but those are simply the same serpentine whispers that Adam and Eve heard in the garden.
You may never have a book, or even a blog article, written about you. But that is not our ultimate aim in life. By the grace of God, we run the race set before us, and we toil faithfully, looking toward the day when we fall on our knees beside our heroes in the faith to sing, “Hallelujah, salvation belongs to the Lamb.”