One Major Reason We Face Suffering in Ministry

This article is by Daniel Henderson, based on a sermon given at GCC's 2021 Senior Pastor and Wife Retreat. Daniel is the president of 6:4 Fellowship.

What do we do with our trials? Anyone who has been in ministry for some time can speak well of the hurt and pain that awaits all who enter there. As Christians, we know that trials and wounds in ministry are not a surprise to God. The Apostle Paul knew that troubles are really things that God does to shift our perspective from the temporary to the eternal. God has a purpose for our burdens. Even in these purposes, however, God does not leave us to suffer alone. He gives us supernatural comfort in the midst of our trials.

If it is true that God has a purpose for our trial and wounds in ministry, then it’s only natural to ask: What is that purpose? Paul gives us insight in 2 Corinthians 1 in a discussion on his own suffering.

Laying Down Our Life for the Sheep

The purpose of trials and wounds in ministry is for God to do a supernatural sanctification and to give us unusual strength so that our message will be authenticated, and our ministry will bring strength and sanctification to others. Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, often said that there was one word that defined his life in ministry: “Others.” Many times, when we face trials and hardships it is not to discipline us or to teach us a lesson (though that is sometimes the case), but for the sake of what we will give to others down the road.

If suffering supplies ministry, then we are right to embrace the difficulties, however hard they may be.

If sufering supplies ministry, then we are right to embrace the difficulties, however hard they may be. In the moment of suffering, as hard as it is, we must remember the words of Jesus: the hireling fleas when the enemy comes, but the good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. Paul's life was marked by suffering. The Christian ministry is marked by afflictions, pain and troubles; it is marked by laying down our lives for the sheep, not by desertion, but by suffering well for others’ sake.

Suffer in Community

When you read 2 Corinthians 1, do you notice that there are no singular pronouns? Paul is talking about a journey he went through in deep fellowship with other companions. "He doesn't ask, How do I get through this, he asks, "How do we get through this?"

He doesn’t ask, How do I get through this,” he asks, “How do we get through this?

Later, Paul talks about all of the trials, burdens and challenges he went through. He talks about his visit to the third heaven, and then he talks about his thorn in the flesh. Notice how he does it—he talks about these trials in a way that is connected to the lessons of grace he learned in order to help those who were the readers and recipients of truth.

I've learned over the years that there are three stages we go through for sanctification in affliction. First, we have an open wound. Then, it becomes a tender scab. Finally, we have an empowering scar. It is good for us to be transparent about our afflictions as Paul was. When we suffer in community, we can point to the scar and say, “Look how God healed me. Look how he brought me through.” Others will be encouraged to trust the comfort of God. We tend to get stuck in a cul-de-sac of pain, misery and doubt, but God is paving a glorious thoroughfare of grace, truth and blessing for the sake of our maturity and our ministry to others.

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