Few pastors go into pastoral ministry for the glory. Most pastors I know began with a genuine love for God and a desire to devote their lives to serving him no matter the cost.
But the human heart is full of deceit. “I cannot pray but I sin,” said George Whitefield. “I cannot preach to you or any others but I sin. I can do nothing without sin; and, as one expresses it, my repentance wants to be repented of, and my tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins.”
We pastor with mixed motives. We preach because we want to declare God’s glories, but we also want people to think we did a good job. We serve others because we love them, but we want them to love and appreciate us too.
Add to that the apparent ministry success of others, our tendency to compare, and the hurts we experience at the hands of others, and we can begin to feel overlooked, insignificant, and forgotten.
I’ve found two truths good for my soul when I feel this way.
Take the Lowest Place
Whenever I start to feel like I deserve more — more recognition, bigger opportunities, more acclaim — I know I need a good does of perspective to get my heart back in its place. I usually read Francis Schaeffer’s essay “No Little People, No Little Places” again.
“In every one of us there remains a seed of wanting to be boss, of wanting to be in control and have the word of power over our fellows,” he writes. The solution: to remember our identity as servants, and to follow Jesus’ command to take the lowest place (Luke 14:7-11). “This is the way of the Christian: he should choose the lesser place until God extrudes him into a position of more responsibility and authority … Take the smaller place so you have quietness before God.”
“We must remember throughout our lives that in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places,” he continues. “Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment.”
Schaeffer knows our hearts well. No position is beneath me. No church, no matter how small, is too humble for me or for any of God’s servants. The more ambitious we are, the more we need to take the lowest place to counteract our desire for our own glory. “ Humble yourself, so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).
Only One Kind of Approval Matters
I know a pastor who served faithfully for decades. When he retired, they threw him a party in a church basement and bought him a cake from Costco.
If we live for the approval of others, we’ll always be disappointed. We’re meant to live for approval, but there’s only one kind of approval that matters.
If you’re a pastor who feels unappreciated, keep going. Don’t trust your desire for your own glory. Keep taking the lower place, and live for the only approval that matters.
“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory,” Peter writes to elders (1 Peter 5:4). Human recognition fades; God’s reward doesn’t. We can be confident that we’ll receive the greatest reward possible, and it will satisfy.
If you’re a pastor who feels unappreciated, keep going. Don’t trust your desire for your own glory. Keep taking the lower place, and live for the only approval that matters. Be faithful where God has placed you. Your ministry matters.