Pastoral Ministry: The Courageous Calling to a Faithful Love

Pastoral Ministry: The Courageous Calling to a Faithful Love

Ministry professionals rarely lead with their weaknesses. We want church leaders with plenty of personality, charisma, and confidence. Missionary letters and reports may dip into Brené Brown vulnerability territory for a paragraph or two, but the overall theme is generally a litany of accomplishments and success stories. The 21st century church largely agrees that blessing and success are the measure of a person’s calling. Of course, we have a pretty way of defining “blessing,” and an even prettier way of judging anyone whose life does not exude the evidences of “blessing.” This is human nature, but it is ironic given the pattern established by apostles who commended one another to “share in suffering as a good solider of Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 2:3) Church history trumpets the stories of saints who chose death over defection or endured unfathomable hardship in carrying out their calling.

Editors Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson have selected the stories of 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry in an effort to dismantle the cool factor that prevails in our view of ministry life. Beginning with the Apostle Paul, who knew well the sting of the lash and the sting of rejection, the record shows that those who have been profoundly used by God “to build the church suffered grinding affliction along the way.”

It may surprise readers to learn that renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from depression or that Jonathan Edwards was ousted from an influential pulpit and spent the remainder of his ministry in the wilderness. John Newton composed Amazing Grace, but he also weathered financial distress and professional pettiness and politics in the pursuit of his calling. It turns out that many of the names we associate with great faith and “success” in ministry were plagued throughout their lives with criticism from their community (often from their own people!), chronic health concerns, or circumstances that were a continual source of mental anguish and despair.

Grueling, Glorious Calling

Historical heroes of the faith ministered in an era of high mortality rates among children, depressing statistics for women in child-bearing years, and the total absence of antibiotics and effective methods of pain relief. Add to this the challenges of ministry life, particularly in cultures where the gospel was not welcome, and it becomes clear that “the surpassing power belongs to God,” and His servants are merely fragile vessels with a powerful message.

Fast forward a century or two, however, and statistics from The Gospel Coalition point to the sobering fact that “pastor suicides climbed 24 percent between 1999 and 2014.” (32) In spite of heightened awareness of mental illness and treatment options among the general population, pastors continue to be reluctant to share their own struggles with depression or doubt.

Pray for Sanctified Courage

Reading the stories of historical figures who loomed larger than life against a backdrop of persecution, jailing, pressure to compromise, and family drama has encouraged me to pray with greater wisdom for present-day ministry leaders. Family challenges may not include a small-pox epidemic, but parenting in the 21st century is not without peril. Add to this the pervasive consumer culture rampant within the church in which Christians “shop” churches for programs, sermons, decor, and a coffee menu that is tailored to their specific preferences, and it’s easy to see why a pastor could become discouraged.

It’s said that Spurgeon’s preaching career resulted in larger church sanctuaries, built to accommodate the crowds he drew. Most ministry leaders will never experience that degree of exposure, and yet we can pray for them to share the truth with holy boldness among the flock God sends to them.  Pastors who love courageously put their hearts at risk in a way that is Christ-like and winsome and yet costly.

Peter, the fisherman turned ministry leader, warned his own flock:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

He spoke from experience, of course, but suffering in the context of ministry is never wasted, and after reading about the endurance of these 12 men in church history, I can sense my own tiny mustard seed of faith sprouting just a bit more.


Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thankful for those who have run the race with endurance,

Oh, and if you’re looking for some inspiration from the lives of faithful women, Eric Metaxas has compiled seven biographies of seven women who demonstrate virtues such as vision, perseverance, and faith. You can read my review here. Michelle Derusha has put together an incredible resource highlighting 50 historical women, each of whom was a world changer in her own way. Click here to read more. 

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

61 thoughts on “Pastoral Ministry: The Courageous Calling to a Faithful Love”

  1. As a pastor’s wife of many years, I can relate to what you wrote Michele. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book, I’d be very interested in reading it.

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    1. I love church history, but I noticed this book did not get high ratings on Amazon, etc., and I think it’s because readers felt that it was too exclusively devoted to men. I added my reviews of a couple books (and I could have added more) devoted entirely to inspiring women from church history.

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  2. Early church leaders suffered and today’s leaders suffer, too. I’ve witnessed it first hand with ministers who are honest enough to share their pain with us congregants. It makes them more real to me and relatable. Just like strong Bible characters, who also revealed their weaknesses and human frailties.

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    1. I wondered if I should have saved this post for October and Pastor Appreciation Month–but I’m already pushing the deadline for getting the review in to the publisher. Sigh. We need to practice pastor appreciation year round anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this! Thank you for your review. I think this would be an excellent book to read. Especially as being broken and authentic with our scars, and allowing God to use our scars in our ministry is exactly what my next blog post is about.

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  4. What a great review! I always enjoy your thoughtful reviews Michele.
    Having worked in the ministry field alongside pastors and their wives, I saw a lot of the hardships that they endured— especially, as you stated, at the hand of their own congregation.
    Ministry work is HARD! We absolutely need to be praying for our pastors and leaders! Theirs is a difficult calling..
    I appreciate your sentiments offered here. ❤️

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  5. Hi Michelle, Thanks for sharing! My husband and I experienced trials during his time as a Pastor and some of them quite fiery, but he Lord prepared our works before the worlds began and He will bring them to completion. For He is our strength when we are weak.

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  6. Being a pastor’s wife helps me to resonate with these stories that you’ve given us a snippet of, Michele. I can vouch that being in the ministry is not for the faint of heart. And knowing that these great men of God faced so many life challenges and discouragements helps to encourage me that we (my husband and I) are not odd or in the wrong calling. It’s just part of life here on this fallen and broken earth. Thanks for this! I’ll be pinning and checking this book out, my friend!

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    1. I always appreciate the insights you bring to your writing from your perspective. We do idealize ministry life, and at the same time, we are hyper-critical of the guy behind the pulpit (and his family!).

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  7. This book looks right up my alley since I love looking back and examining people of history. It’s tough to remember that these giants of the faith were very human and flawed. I think we do that with Bible characters, too.

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  8. I’ve often wondered why there is so much more depression these days when life is more “cushy” than in those days. Maybe it is defined and talked about more, I don’t know. It’s hard to read some of those older stories when epidemics wiped out hordes of people, or a couple would have a dozen kids and only 3 or 4 lived to adulthood. Of course, there are different types of hardships today that people in older times didn’t have. It’s never been easy to serve the Lord, and I think ministers in particular have a target on the backs from the enemy of souls. I enjoy reading and hearing how people in various eras have loved and served the Lord despite hardships. Thanks for telling us about this resource, Michele.

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  9. I think it is very difficult for anyone (even lay leaders in a ministry or church) to fully recognize the risks and challenges pastors and their families take. Too often the expectation of the bodies they serve play a part in creating the challenges and risks due to their desire for near perfection in all areas of the pastor’s life, ministry, and family. God did not intend for us to so idealize them and when we do it sets them up to keep struggles hidden or move them into pride and narcissism. Through more than 25 years of clinical practice and 14 years as part of a church staff, I have seen it up close and personal. Thanks for sharing this review. We need to learn to help pastors be more effective and provide help and support from trusted sources who can also hold them accountable to the standards they hope to keep.

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  10. Years later, we read about these men’s great accomplishments, and don’t realize they went through trials like depression or illness, just like we do! Thanks for shedding light on that here and sharing this book, Michele!

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    1. We do have a tendency to turn historical figures (and biblical characters) into cardboard saints. It’s good for us to realize that they overcame great obstacles by the power of God, AND that their lives were not rosy just because they were serving Him. Remember what Teresa of Avila said? “God, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.”

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  11. It’s important to realise that people we see as very faithful/ successful struggled too and to know that God was able to use them to do great things even in their weakness and challenges!

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  12. This is such a wonderful reminder to pray for our pastors and church leaders. They serve us so well and so faithfully. And it is always inspiring to read about the Christians who have come before us and have fought the good fight. Blessings to you Michele!

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    1. Yes, I think most of us don’t have nearly enough of a grasp of church history to really understand where we’ve been. And when it comes to our leaders in the faith, it’s hard to over-state how much they need our prayers. Thanks for your good input, Connie!

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  13. Michele, as one who watched our pastors when I worked in women’s ministry, I saw some of the backside of ministry. Pastors carry such a burden. It’s easy to look at them while sitting in the congregation, to see people flock to them after services to talk with them. But, we don’t see the pressures, the concerns that burden their hearts. The hard decisions they must sometimes make and the pressures of balancing family with ministry. It sounds like this book goes in-depth to portray an more balanced picture the life of those in ministry.

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    1. It’s so true that we have a tendency to glamorize ministry of all kinds, forgetting the sacrifices and risks that are involved.
      It’s great that you’ve had a first hand look at the reality of it.

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    1. I listened to a Gospel Coalition podcast with Colin and Jeff discussing their book, and they really clarified that courage emphasis for me. We need so much help in our understanding of virtue in this era.

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  14. I have read about a few of these men. They did not have an easy time of it. But then again God calls us out of our comfort zone often times when he wants to work big! #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. I really appreciated reading about some of the fragility of these well-known leaders. And it’s reassuring that God is not limited in His ability to use and to call ordinary people like us to do great things for Him.

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  15. Thank you for this review. It is refreshing to me to know that pastors are just regular people. I think we tend to put them on pedestals and hold them against higher standards. But being a small church now, I see the inner workings and know that we are all humans and that’s okay.

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  16. So true! We rarely talk about the hard parts. And we as congregants usually just assume our leaders have their stuff together as they stand in front of us from week to week looking polished. Thanks for this reminder to renew my prayers for ministry leaders and another book to add to my list! Blessings!!

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    1. It’s such a balancing act for ministry leaders (ahem . . . and bloggers) to demonstrate undistracting excellence in service while at the same time remaining vulnerable to show that God has accepted us warts and all.
      Have a great weekend, Liz!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh, how important this message is! In a time when the color of the carpet is sometimes more important to church members than the people who walk on it and success in ministry is measured by your number of followers and the funds you raise, we forget that to be like Christ is to be rejected, to be persecuted, to suffer, to die. Can’t wait to read this book. Thank you for sharing it with us at Encouraging Word Wednesday!

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  18. As a ministry assistant for over 20 years, I can testify to the challenges of the ministry for pastors and their families. I’ve often thought, “who in their right minds would want to deal with church people!” It is so sad to see how hard congregations are on their pastors. I do know Jesus can equip and qualify the called, but we need to pray everyone treats them more lovingly!

    On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of great people who do honor their pastors and pray for them and make themselves available to help. I don’t want to take away from that fact!

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    1. Jerralea, I’m sure you’ve been a real encouragement to the pastors you’ve supported. And I agree with you that we should be aware of the needs and making ourselves available to help. WE gain so much by partnering in ministry with our faithful shepherds.

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  19. I had absolutely no idea that the rates of suicide and depression were so high! That is truly shocking, though it shouldn’t be when you think about the burden they carry to fulfill their calling. #GlobalBlogging

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  20. Thanks for reviewing this book Michele. I really enjoyed reading your reflections. I have just finished my theological studies and am looking forward to pastoring a church. I am very glad that there are people out there who are writing about and learning from the old saints who have so much to teach us. I will be adding this book to my ‘to-read’ list.

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