There is perhaps more discouragement and depression among preachers of the gospel than in many other professions. They carry the burdens of many in their congregations and frequently have no one to turn to for help and encouragement when they themselves become discouraged. They faithfully pray, prepare and preach only to find that week after week they see the same faces looking up at them when they stand before their congregation. Where are the crowds? Where are the new people?
At ministers’ conferences and fraternals, which they are encouraged to attend, they find little to encourage them (although they would not dare to admit it). Papers are read about preachers of former generations who, in spite of the difficulties they had to face, were greatly used by God and preached week by week, and sometimes daily, to large congregations wherever they went.
When they sit around the coffee table, or at a meal with their ministerial colleagues they have often noticed that the first question they are asked after the usual formalities of introductions is, ‘How many people do you have in your congregation?’ When they reply, ‘Thirty, or forty on a good Sunday’, the questioner invariably replies ‘Oh!’ and turns his attention to someone else. They know that it is very unlikely that they will be invited to preach in conferences or special meetings.
To all such we would say, take a look at Scripture and you will find that you are not alone in your discouragement. When the Lord sent Isaiah to preach to his generation he told him that he would meet with little success. His mission was to ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed’ (Isaiah 6:9-10). No wonder Isaiah was quick to ask, ‘Lord, how long?’ Later he expresses the same sentiments as our discouraged preacher friends today when he writes: ‘Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ (Isaiah 53:1).
Think about our Lord himself who looked over the wicked city of Jerusalem and exclaimed, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’ (Matthew 23:37). Remember that after the exemplary life and three and a half years of ministry of the Son of God himself there were only 120 believers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.
Think again, dear preacher friend, as you stand up before your congregation next Sunday and see the same faces. The fact is that you do ‘see the same faces’. What a blessing that is! They are there faithfully week after week, year after year. Here are some of God’s elect whom he has been pleased to call by his grace and bring to a knowledge of Christ as Saviour and Lord. He has entrusted them to you to be instructed, fed and encouraged. ‘Feed my sheep, feed my lambs,’ he says, as he said to Peter so long ago. ‘They are my sheep,’ says the Father, ‘I have given them to my Son, who has redeemed them, and by my Spirit I have brought them to repentance and faith in Christ. Feed them!’
Remember, you are not called to the ministry to entertain or prove how learned you are and how well acquainted you are with the Puritans or the commentaries. Your job is to ‘feed’ those with whom the Lord has entrusted you, whether they be few or many. They come to worship and to be fed. Do not disappoint them or be unfaithful to your calling. Let the others entertain and pander to their fleshly appetites. Thank the Lord for those whom he has entrusted to your care.
Just one thing more. Make sure you feed them. It is not just sufficient for you to simply analyse the Scriptures in your sermons. They can know the Scriptures inside out and back to front, but if you do not lead them to see Christ, you have wasted your time, and their time. Remember what Christ said to the Pharisees of his day, ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me’ (John 5:39), and what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Make sure you do the same. Do not simply lecture them on doctrine, church structure and discipline, Christian ethics, evangelism, sanctification or obedience to the Law. This is like taking the flock to the entrance of a beautiful pasture with a sparkling stream of clear water and not opening the gate to let them in to enjoy it. Open the gate and let them feed on Christ. He is all they need. Could it be that you do not have more people at your services because you are not leading them to Christ. In that case they are not being fed. Christ’s flock will always find their way to a place where they can find the spiritual food they need and long for. Feed them!