Jump Start # 2176
2 Corinthians 7:5-6 “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side; conflicts withoiut, fears within. But God who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
We continue our consideration of preachers and discouragement and depression. This follows the story of a young California preacher who took his life. It illustrates for us that although the preacher can point the way to Christ, he, himself, is often on a long journey and has to deal with his own struggles. There was a time not too long ago when the unspoken expectation among brethren was perfection among preachers. It was never declared that way, but the lack of patience, understanding and the willingness to work with a man who was struggling sure seemed to be rare back then.
Preachers, like the rest of us, get discouraged. Things happen in life, things do not go the way we hoped and prayed for and people let us down an disappoint us. We can all say, “That’s life.” Been there way too many times. Discouragement among preachers also comes from the nature of the work. Some of this is brought on by the way we think and what we expect, but nevertheless, it’s there.
Our passage today reflects the troubled Paul. Conflicts without and fears within. What a miserable mess he was in. No peace. No rest. No comfort. The ESV says he was “downcast.” The NAS is more blunt. It uses the word depressed. A depressed apostle is not the image that we want to have of Paul. Not at this place in our N.T. He ought to be riding high. His spirits ought to be soaring. Fears and conflicts makes us question his faith. There were many reasons for this. Persecution caused the outward conflicts. The divided, carnal Corinthian church was the internal fears. Was Paul doing enough? Was he too soft? Was he too strong? Maybe Peter would be a better fit? Maybe Paul was traveling too much and just needed to stay in one place for a while and help them? Maybe…maybe…maybe.
What I sense here is what troubles many of us preachers. The balance of our work. The guilt we place upon ourselves, wondering if we are doing enough. The loneliness of not having anyone who understands. Not wanting to be perceived as whining or complaining, but knowing that so much is expected of him. If the church isn’t growing, the first thought is the preacher and his preaching. If folks leave, the first thought is the preacher and his preaching. If families complain about no one is connecting with the young people, the first thought is the preacher and his preaching. The church doesn’t seem to be very friendly, everyone looks to the preacher. The fellowship seems shallow and empty, all eyes turn to the preacher. Even if no one does, he does. He knows. He puts this upon himself. He hears what fellow preachers are doing and it makes him feel worse, because he isn’t doing those things. His family cries for his attention. His studies cries for his attention. The members need him. He knows he needs to be in the community teaching the lost. He feels pulled, stretched and he knows the candle has been burning in both directions for a long, long time. He feels guilty for getting away. There are stacks of books he needs to read. The classes he prepares are fine by most standards, but not his. He struggles with sleep, because all of these thoughts, needs keep rushing through his mind. He tries to smile and be upbeat, but deep inside, the conflicts, the fears, are all too real.
Then, added to this, some cranky brother explodes on the preacher. He chews him out for something so innocent. More defeated and more exhausted, the preacher sits in his office wondering what he will preach on this week.
Now, before we have a big pity party and all cry, “Poor little preacher,” we need to grasp a few things.
First, the nature of our work is preaching every Sunday. It’s been that way since the first century. We have sermons on Sunday. That means as soon as Sunday is wrapped up, the preacher must start all over again. There are ways to keep fresh. There are things he can do to keep the ideas flowing. But if he can’t handle that, the constant deadlines, the pressure, if he doesn’t like that, then he needs to think long and hard about preaching. Paul told Timothy to preach the word. Sitting in a coffee shop all morning, drinking coffee, may be a way to try to get Bible studies. It’s one way. But he needs to know that preachers are not supported to sit in coffee shops and hope someone is brave enough to ask, “Are you reading the Bible?” We are supported to preach. That is not confined only to the church building, nor to a large audience. But neither does it exclude that. Working up sermons that are needful, helpful, practical, and Biblical takes time. The preacher needs to preach.
Second, there are expectations that we assume and we place upon ourselves that are not true to the Bible. It’s not the sole responsibility of the preacher to convert the lost, strengthen the brethren and to set the visionary course for the future. We have borrowed the corporate concept that if a team isn’t winning, fire the coach. If a business isn’t profitable, get rid of the CEO. The responsibility of growth is never laid upon the preacher’s shoulders. We’ve done that. So, sermon after sermon, when no one responds to the Gospel call, the preacher feels it. He knows. He begins to question his ability. He begins to wonder if it’s time to move. If the message is what is needed, it often isn’t the preacher’s fault. Are the members inviting? Is the audience listening? We never dream of asking a family to leave because they are not carrying their load of the work. Here is a family and all they do is show up on Sunday morning. Nothing more is expected and nothing more will ever be done. They never think about asking family members for a Bible study. They never volunteer to help or to teach. They don’t even show up for a Gospel Meeting, let alone, try to invite someone. Yet after a few years, this family will lead the call for a change of preachers. Why? We aren’t growing, they declare. They have placed the whole burden upon the preacher.
Let’s get back to what Paul told Timothy. Preach. Preach. Preach. He never said, “Grow the church.” God will give the increase if we are planting and watering. So, some of the discouragement is self induced. We place more burdens upon us than we should. That has become a common problem among us preachers.
Third, our passage shows that God helped Paul by sending Titus. God didn’t take away the problems. The conflicts and fears were still there, but now there was Titus. Titus the friend. Titus the fellow preacher. Titus, who was God’s comforter. In this, we see the wonderful need for each other, for encouragement and for connections with others, especially those who understand. I am amazed at the network that young preachers have among each other. Our times makes it easy. It wasn’t there when I started. Phone calls were long distance and expensive. Email didn’t exist. No such thing as social media. So, I’d write letters. I wrote many preachers. I had questions. I didn’t understand things. Often, most often, those letters were not answered for another six months. By then, I had worked through many of those issues. It was lonely and it was hard. Today, thankfully, it is so much easier.
I would encourage younger preachers to find an older preacher that you can trust, and get close to. You need him. His experience, his wisdom, his love for the Lord will help you. Older preachers, don’t be threatened by these younger ones. They are on fire. They are talented. They are passionate. They are full of ideas. They need some direction. They need some stability. Don’t be jealous. Don’t be mean to them. Don’t be grumpy.
And, younger preachers, look up to these older ones. They have made things easier for you. They were never paid what you are making today. They have helped congregations and elderships get back to a Biblical pattern. They have preached longer than you have been alive. Include them. Invite them. Learn from them. Take care of them.
The work preachers do is hard. What the congregation sees on Sunday is just one small part of it. In fact, it’s the easiest part of preaching. See if you can be a Titus to a preacher. You may just be the comfort that God sends to help a preacher.
How a preacher deals with his own discouragement shows a lot of what he is made up of. Discouragement can be a bump in the road that we get over, or it can cripple us and defeat us. Helping others who are discouraged is difficult when you carry the same ball and chain around yourself. Faith, prayer and understanding what you are to do helps immensely.
Have I ever been discouraged? Yes. I once was asked, “Do you ever feel like quitting?” My answer, “Every Monday morning. But Tuesday rolls around and I have to get things done, so I get back at it.”
I am thankful for the brethren who stand in the shadows of Titus. What you do is life changing.