This happy breed

This Happy BreedSome reflections on why many full-time workers are moaners in minstry

When I was around 13 years old, our church inducted a new minister. Our choir was asked to sing at the service. I can remember the serious misgivings I had as I was learning the words of the song:

So send I you to labour unrewarded, to serve unpaid, unloved, unsought unknown;
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing, so send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred, to eyes made blind because they will not see;
To spend though it be blood to spend, and spare not, so send I you to taste of Calvary.

So send I you to leave your life’s ambition, to die to dear desire, self will resign;
To labour long and love where men revile you, so send I you to lose your life in Mine.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

I wondered if the new pastor would listen to this and then run a mile without completing his induction!

Miserable ministers?

The song also jarred a bit because I could remember our previous pastor. He was a charismatic, fun-loving man. He had ‘died to dear desire’ by giving up an exciting career to enter the ministry, but you would never think so to look at him. His life was filled with laughter and making others laugh. There was no way that I had a picture of a miserable drudge who found every day almost impossible to bear because of the personal sacrifice and unbearable opposition and loneliness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Similarly I remember another couple’s regular visits back to our church after they had left to be lifetime missionaries. They told us exciting stories of houses on stilts, rainy seasons and taught us songs in a strange language. These childhood impressions of a people full of joy in service have made a lasting impression. Of course, they did ‘spend though it be blood to spend’ and did not spare themselves. On one journey their boat capsized and their daughter lost her life. When many would have given up in grief, they continued in their missionary calling.

The joy of the LORD

These were a ‘happy breed of men’. Life was not ‘all beer and skittles’ as mum used to say, but they knew what it was to have ‘streams of living water flowing out of their innermost being’. They experienced that ‘the joy of the LORD is our strength’, and they demonstrated the victorious Christian life to us so that we knew it was possible — and should be imitated.

Endangered species?

In my more pessimistic moments I wonder whether this ‘happy breed of men’ is dying out? In recent years I seem to hear more and more about: speakers who refuse to accept engagements because the audience isn’t expected to be large enough or because they are not to be put up in a four-star hotel (rather than staying with a Christian family); many who engage with missionary work in order to have a ‘fun year out’ before going on to do what they really feel is their life’s mission (usually a lucrative career); those who choose to do ‘fun’ Christian activities like beach parties rather than serving God in a more ordinary way (like putting chairs out and washing up) in places where they are more needed; pastors who regard themselves as ‘visionaries and leaders’, determined to tell others how to serve, rather than demonstrating servant-hood for others to follow; musicians who design so-called ‘worship times’ in order to feed egos and titillate emotions rather than ‘offering a sacrifice of praise’; and those who complain bitterly about the sacrifice incurred as a result of their ministry calling.

Life through death to self

Is this symptomatic of our materialistic and hedonistic age — where a longing for fun, satisfaction, success, respect, comfort and a general ‘need’ to have all personal dear desires met has crept into the church? Maybe we need to turn back to the sentiments of ‘So Send I You’? Perhaps a previous generation to mine did have it right after all? They found that it was through crucifixion that we have life. Until we ‘take up our cross and follow’ we shall never know true joy.

To avoid sounding like the proverbial ‘grumpy old woman’, I think my rhetorical question ‘Is this happy breed of men dying out?’ has to be answered with a resounding ‘No!’ Our church is littered with many who tirelessly and lovingly sacrifice time, money and energy as they obey the command to take up the cross and follow, and I am sure yours is too. However, the challenge to be a ‘living sacrifice’ remains for all of us. We constantly need to question our motivation and attitudes about everything we do. We can all have a ‘cup’ half empty or half full: focus on what we have lost rather than what we have gained and live a parched life of resentment. We can all become full of our selfish desires and seek after earthly treasure, even under the guise of ‘serving the Lord’. Maybe this is not a symptom of our materialistic age, but simply part of our sinful condition? I pray that as a church we shall find true joy and satisfaction as we ‘taste of Calvary’.

The pastor didn’t run out of the induction service after we sang. He ministered to us for nearly 20 years: another one of the ‘happy breed of men’.

(This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)

2 thoughts on “This happy breed

  1. Totally agree with the theology of this article!

    I’m not so sure about the chronology – I suspect there have always been moaners and “rock stars” in pastoral ministry, just as there are many joyful people today.

    As a pastor I find it most irritating when my fellow ministers moan about how hard their work is – because I know very few people whose jobs aren’t hard whatever they do!

    That said, I suspect one of the issues is that although pastors have for a long time generally been paid less than doctors, teachers, lawyers and others with similar abilities and qualifications they were broadly respected by their congregations. It’s my observation that, in many churches (happily not the one I serve), this respect is now missing, and that, I suspect (rightly or wrongly!), contributes to a lack of joy in the work for many.

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