A little while back someone asked me how I managed to stick it out, serving two small churches. I didn't really know what to say. It was like being asked how I managed to stick it out being married to my wife (although in fairness she's probably had to do more 'sticking it out' than me). I ummed and ahhed a bit to buy some time and then blurted out, 'because I love them'. That was it, really. We've been through a lot together over the years. There have been difficult times, disappointments and setbacks. I've had to bury dear friends, try to comfort the bereaved, and offer support to people with serious illnesses. People have come and gone, returned and then gone again. Some have shown an interest in the gospel only for it to fizzle out. I've been at it now for thirteen years.
On the other hand, we've seen conversions and baptisms. The churches have grown in love for one another. We've become vastly more active in witness and community engagement. We long to see fruit for our prayers and efforts, but keep on praying and testifying to the gospel in different ways. Maybe the stereotype is that smaller churches are that way because they have a rigid 'us against the world' mentality. But our people have been fixed when it comes to gospel faithfulness and flexible when it comes to trying new ways of doing church and engaging non-Christians with the good news of Jesus.
Last week I attended a prayer meeting for the group of seven churches in our local FIEC cluster. I led the meeting and asked a leader of the host church to give us a word of encouragement from the Scriptures to get us going. He spoke from 2 Corinthians 4. As he read the chapter I was struck by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1, 'we do not lose heart'.
It's not as if the apostle had it easy. Especially in his relationship with the church at Corinth. He had heard all about their divisions, doctrinal deviations, and failures in church discipline. Not to mention that some members of the congregation were critical of him personally. Much preferring the effortless glamour of the 'super apostles' than old Paul. 'Ha' they said, 'his bodily presence is weak and his speech of no account'. (2 Corinthians 10:10). What a thing to say of a preacher!
Yet Paul refused to be discouraged. The source of his indomitable resilience? The 'mercy of God' (2 Corinthians 4:1). Yes, there's a lot that could get us down in pastoral work, but 'having received this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart'. And however hard things may be at the moment, the future is gloriously bright. Another reason not to lose heart, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.