Near the beginning of his 1830 publication on the pastoral ministry (The Christian Ministry), Charles Bridges discussed the trials and difficulties of the ministry. In this section he wrote that for pastors, “the greatest difficulties derive their origin and power from ourselves.” This whole section is outstanding, and very much worth reading. One part of it that stuck out for me was what Bridges said about opposition to the ministry on the one hand, and popularity on the other.
“Opposition to our ministry and message may stir up a selfish, unhumbled spirit.”
“Popularity is yet more dangerous. The few who escape its influence unhurt have been exercised in painful conflict, such as have shown their deliverances from this fiery trial to have been nearly miraculous. Symptoms of success, unless tempered with personal abasement and habitual watchfulness, excite to self-confidence.”
Bridges’ words really caught my attention! The very thing that many of us pastors desire – popularity – is more dangerous than opposition in the ministry and is a “fiery trial” that breeds self-confidence. Why again do I want popularity? Perhaps I should pray against it!
The lack of success and popularity, on the other hand, is too often accompanied with impatience or despondency. So we are assaulted at the extreme points of opposite direction (popularity vs. opposition), and we surely need the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. (2 Cor. 6:7).
Bridges does talk about other difficulties pastors have within themselves, such as spiritual coldness, loss of zeal, natural love of ease, dislike of self-denial, and the ongoing struggle with worldliness. But Bridges also does a nice job encouraging the pastor to press on by God’s grace. He even says that difficulties in the ministry can be used by God to become sources of encouragement:
“The discipline of the cross is most needful to repress the overweening confidence in self, to establish an habitual confidence in God’s promises, to prove the power of faith, the privileges of prayer, and the heavenly support of God’s Word, so that we know how from our own difficult experiences how to speak a word in season to him that is weary (cf. Is. 50:4).”
“Faith links our weakness in immediate connection with the promises of God’s help (Zech. 4:6). Thus discouragements in the ministry, properly sustained and carefully improved, become our most fruitful sources of eventual encouragement.”
Forget popularity. Don’t buckle or throw in the towel when faced with difficulties. Because when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10; cf. 2 Cor. 13:4).
Recommended pastoral reading: Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry (in light of the above quotes, especially note chapters 4-5.