Kenneth Crawford, MA, is a retired pastor, administrator, and author residing in College Place, Washington, United States.

I have had moments of discouragement when I was convinced that my labor has been in vain, and I know every pastor has experienced it:

  • Standing by the bedside of the dying, knowing that the only thing you have to offer is your paltry prayers and sympathy.
  • Spending endless hours locked in combat with the powers of darkness over a failing marriage in your congregation, yet, in the end, trying to mitigate the pain as the marriage dissolves.
  • Spending endless nights in board meetings held hostage by one or two agenda-driven members.
  • Sprinkling “pastor dust” on events because your presence and benediction are required there as a formality.

The ministry can be discouraging business, but it is not just pastors who feel the struggle; church members ask the same questions about their own lives and ministry. Week after endless week, they show up at their church, teach the lesson, lead in a children’s division, or read the scripture, all the time wondering whether what they contribute makes a difference to anyone.

Only you know and understand those endless hours invested in shepherding the flock, helping those in need, giving of yourself week after week, only to see those same needs always present, never changing. At times, it feels like it is sucking your life force and bringing seeds of cynicism to your once tender and giving heart.

You work, pray, try to hang on to faith, and endeavor to stay inspired, yet so often, it seems that you are making no significant difference. It feels like you are caught in the crossfire between endless needs and personal inadequacy. You live with the inner whispers—“Am I really making any difference?” “Does any of this really matter to anyone?” “Has it been all in vain?” Oh! But discouragement can be a persistent suitor.

I remember visiting Pastor J. He sat slumped on his couch. “I’m quitting,” he stated. “I’ve taken a job as a carpenter in another state.”

“I don’t understand,” I sputtered. “You are a successful pastor, loved by your congregation, and effective in your realm. This was your life calling; this is what you spent six long years of college preparing for.”

“Sorry,” he replied. “I just can’t see that I have made any difference in anyone’s life, and I see no results of all my labors. At least in carpentry, I can see immediate results.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that Paul had his moments when he engaged in a little of this self-pity. Paul uses this same terminology of language 19 times, so apparently, Paul spent more time thinking about this than he actually lets on.

After four decades in ministry, I am convinced of one thing: never, never forget that the work is the Lord’s. You and I are not the central players in the great drama of the ages; we are only to play our part.

After four decades in ministry, I am convinced of one thing: never, never forget that the work is the Lord’s. You and I are not the central players in the great drama of the ages; we are only to play our part.

Ephesians 2:10 states, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (NKJV). Our calling is to make a difference in the lives God brings to us without asking about the results. The work we are to do is to be the fragrance of heaven in a world reeling from the stench of sin.

This morning I made a phone call to my favorite aunt. Aunt Marion is an amazing, indomitable lady of 101 years. She is one of those people of rare quality who is always upbeat, positive, and looking at the blessings in life, and I love her for it.

“I don’t know why I am still here,” she complained (which is highly unusual for her). “I have lost my dear husband, John, the love of my life, and I have buried all five of my children. I am left alone, and I don’t know why the Lord keeps me alive.”

“For me!” I laughed. “You’re all I have to keep me straight in life.”

“You know, a strange thing did happen to me this week,” she said. “They gave me one of those new young doctors. I’ve been going to her for about four months, and this week, she announced that she is moving to Oregon. Then she did a strange thing. She stood up and hugged me. She said, ‘You have no idea of the positive impact you have had on my life. Someday I hope to rise to a level in life where I can be like you.’

“Frankly, I was a little flabbergasted,” my aunt mused to herself. “I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but tears were streaming down her cheeks.”

“I know what she was saying,” I said. “You are one of those rare people in life who make a difference in other people’s lives. You are a blessing to all who know you, the fragrance of heaven in people’s lives. That’s what your physician saw.”

So, my beloved brother and sister in the faith, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJV emphasis added).


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Kenneth Crawford, MA, is a retired pastor, administrator, and author residing in College Place, Washington, United States.

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