As the apostle Paul often greeted the churches, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord,” I greet you as well. I write to encourage you in the ministry that you have been called to serve. I know there are times when you feel frustrated, tired and weary on the journey, but remember, God is faithful to those he has called. Moreover, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb 6:10).
I have been in ministry in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) since 1992 and have pastored three churches since 1997. I am clear that I did not choose the calling into ministry or the ministry gifts, but God chose me. I have been sent on a mission of proclaiming God’s love to those who would be entrusted to my care and those who may not know him. The assurance of my calling has been a strength throughout this journey. As I have been assured of God’s faithfulness toward me and my commitment to the calling (wherever I have served), I have experienced his grace and presence. The desire to be faithful versus the desire to be successful has been a source of constant encouragement.
Has the journey been without its challenges? No, it has not. Initially, I suffered from being misunderstood on several fronts, even distancing by some family members and friends. Mostly because they did not understand the fullness of the calling that had been placed on my life, and in some respect, neither did I. I later would learn that God used times of testing, persecution and being misunderstood to deepen my relationship with him and to conform me more into the image of Christ. I remain confident that the Lord is at work within me to carry out his purpose. Subsequently, I have found over the years, the more I cry out to the Lord for grace and mercy, the more I have experienced his lovingkindness, grace, compassion and faithfulness.
Several years ago, I experienced fatigue that I could not explain, so I shared it with several ministry brothers. Still, I did not find any release in my confession or appeal to them for understanding. As I continued to cry out to the Lord, I could hear him saying to me, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). There are times in ministry that only God can give you what is needed. He must be the source we draw from to aid us in persevering in ministry. I have learned that God’s calling into ministry requires constant reliance on his grace as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
To remain strengthened during these challenging times, we must also continue in our spiritual disciplines. Many of us know firsthand the importance of prayer. We should always pray, just as Jesus spent time in prayer with the Father. We must never neglect our time in fellowship and communion with him. Do not be deceived in thinking that the “to-do” list is more important than your fellowship in the presence of the Lord. He is always there waiting for us to come to him about everything. Furthermore, if you do not have a prayer or accountability partner, ask the Lord to place someone in your life to walk alongside you. He has not called us on this journey to be alone.
The spiritual discipline of journaling also has been a great source of comfort over the years. Journaling allows me to express my deepest thoughts and feelings and experience other disciplines, such as meditation, guidance, humility and confession of sins. During this quiet time with the Lord, I can also express my love, adoration and praise for a loving Father.
The challenge of my ministerial journey is an expression of the need for the sufficiency of God’s grace. Our vertical relationship with the Lord provides us with an overflow of God’s grace and presence for our ministry’s horizontal relationship with others. The abiding presence of the Lord that comes through abiding in him and his Word abiding in us is sufficient to sustain us as we persevere in the ministry we have been called to serve.
As we continue to run this race that has been set before us, may the words of Charles Wesley be an encouragement to us as well.
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage
To do my Master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.
Ronald Sterling is lecturer in pastoral studies and director of student services at Beeson Divinity School. He is also the pastor of St. John AME Church in Birmingham.