Small groups, preaching, networking, discipling, planning, praying, scheduling, rescheduling, meeting, drinking over-priced coffee, team-building, reading, writing, playing with kids, caring for a wife, advancing, retreating, shepherding, reserving, exegeting, working, and on and on and on and on and on. Planting a church is exhausting. On top of this, there are the internal challenges of fear, worry, jealousy, ambition, and a host of other inner affections, trials, and temptations. Many a planter identifies with the fatigue of ministry. Some have even experienced something akin to burn-out; a loss of fervor. Of course, in this way, church planting is no different than any other life-dominating pursuit. Every fallen person who exercises some matter of life in this fallen world eventually runs upon his finitude. Tiring, slowing, and perhaps stopping altogether.
These experiences are common to a fallen world, inside and outside the Christian milieu; so much so that a multitude of secular solutions are promoted and tried every day. The mainstream secular approach involves variations on behavioral solutions such as starting the day with a relaxing ritual, adopting healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits, setting boundaries, taking a daily break from technology, nourishing your creative side, learn how to manage stress, etc. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with maintaining a mindfulness of these outward responsibilities, the problem of “Christian burn-out” begs an important question. What is a Christian to do about these struggles? In light of the many external solutions, does the gospel have a place in this discussion, and if so, how does the gospel interact with the dynamics of our limited strength and endurance? We suggest the gospel not only holds a place, but the gospel holds the central place.
While the importance of this topic is great—deserving far more space and time than available here—perhaps focusing on one central passage of Scripture may nudge us all in the direction of renewal. If I’m honest I will admit that in times of personal fatigue (loss of fervor) my natural response is to self-chastise, self-rile, and self- discipline in hopes of cultivated a renewed self-determination to get better. For me, this often involves a to-do list, a more rigid schedule, and a vow to never fall behind again. But this sounds eerily like the secular solution.
By way of disclaimer, it is certainly not my intention to discredit the role of personal discipline. God has much to say to us about discipline and work throughout the pages of Scripture. Instead, it is very much my attention to draw attention to the overwhelming work of the gospel and enabling grace in all our trouble—especially troubles of motivation, weariness, and even laziness in all their various forms.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul confronts a problem which is akin to the topic discussed here. Although the Galatians embraced conversion by hearing with faith, they sought to move forward in life by effort with performance (not additional hearing with faith). Having begun by the Spirit, they were being perfected by the flesh. Paul’s correction: to return to their original mode of operation, hearing with faith. The central point of this immensely practical passage is that Christian growth and sustenance is not achieved by human effort or a more diligent performance, but by the gospel message itself. There is a very real power inhernt and active in the Good News. By divine power, the gospel cheers, comforts, soothes, and motivates. For those of us who suffer a loss of fervor for the gospel don’t need more fervor. We need more Gospel. During times of spiritual lethargy, our highest hope for renewed vigor is in the very message that invigorated us to begin with: The Gospel.
During dull seasons, we need—above all else—hearing with faith. The “foolish Galatians” followed a bewitching influence to hope in their own works, rather than hope in God’s promise. As foolish Galatians, ourselves, we face the same temptation to prop up our vigor for the Church through self-effort, to-do lists, pressure, vows, and all sorts of other means that have no life to impart. When fervor fades, a common first response is to establish a list of rules rather than rest and rejoice in the gospel, when what we have needed is to hear the life-giving message of the gospel again…and again and again and again.
The mass of unbelievers in this world are not the only people who need daily evangelism. Christians need evangelism; and I would suggest our need for evangelism is all the greater. The lost have no promises, no hopes, no advantages, no blessings, no benefits. But for we Christians quite the contrary. By hearing with faith, the Gospel has granted unto us a yes for every promise, hope for every hardship, everything pertaining to life and godliness, blessing upon blessing, and every benefit of grace. Christians need the gospel more than anyone. How can we enjoy the gifts of God’s glory without the daily encouragement of our own good news? No measure of external work can order the affections, stir the spirit, or sustain our fervor. But the gospel—oh, the gospel—can! And the Gospel does. Through it God frees, fills, furnishes, and forms us by His Spirit. As we, tired and troubled, remain stayed on the gospel of promise, the Spirit of God is faithful to renew our spiritual fervor. And it all happens by hearing with faith.
Have you grown weary in doing good? Here are some important ways to face your fatigue with hope and see your fervor renewed.
- Entreat your brothers to pray for you and to faithfully remind you of just how good is the good news. Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches the importance of regular reminders of God’s covenant promises and the power of those reminders to stir us up. Furthermore, in the book of Hebrews we are exhorted to encourage one another day-by-day, lest we be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. See 2 Peter 1:13-15; Hebrews 12:3-15.
- Fix your gaze on Christ who has authored and promised to perfect us. This is God’s way of fitting us with the endurance that belongs to Jesus, our Brother and Savior. We may only fix our gaze on Christ through daily meditation (hearing with faith) on His grace and truth. See Hebrews 2:1-3; John 1:17.
- Recount the unending gospel promises which are yours in Christ. “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” See 2 Corinthians 1:20-22.
- Invite another pastor to help you examine your hopes. Often ministry fatigue settles upon us when our (h)opes become (H)opes. Good desires—for things such as a growing church, a vibrant community presence, flourishing partnerships—can easily become ruling desires. Could it be that some of your slowing is due to little hopes becoming your big Hope. See Colossians 3:1-5.