03.08.16

Faithful Pastors Can’t Be One-Hit Wonders

Music history is filled with one-hit wonders—those acts that had fabulous success from one hit song but otherwise were unremarkable. Wikipedia lists them by the decade. From the 2000s there’s Mary Mary and “Shackles”, Jaden Smith with “Never Say Never,” Aloe Blacc’s “The Man,” and many others. Who can forget Vanilla Ice? If you’re asking yourself “Who is that?” then you’re proving the point. One hit wonders wow us for a time, but then they become the stuff of trivia games and late night “remember when” sessions with college friends. They burst on the scene with tremendous promise only to fade as quickly to obscurity.

A faithful pastor cannot be a one-hit wonder. By definition, the faithful pastor must be competent in a variety of things and must prove able to do them over and over again. Sure, you can assemble a couple of really good sermons that you trot out at conferences or revivals where you suspect people haven’t heard them. But that won’t do when you’re called to serve a particular people in a particular place for a long period of time.

Think of what a pastor must learn and do?

Counseling: To be effective as a shepherd you must know something about the spiritual maladies and temptations of your people. It’s your job to help them—and no two counseling sessions are the same. In a given day you may offer pre-marital counseling to a young couple brand new to relationships and with marital models then follow that session with a young man battling pornography only to end the day at a hospital bed helping a member and their family cope with impending grief. That’s a lot of counseling skill and knowledge required for that one day! There’s no favorite Bible verse that’s sensitively applied to every situation.

Preaching: Sunday keeps coming. Each Sunday is different. The people arrive expecting to hear a word from the Lord. Their spiritual stomachs have already forgotten last week’s meal. Some need milk; others need meat. The pastor has to feed them all. You can’t play your best sermon over and over again. It’s a new text on a new day. You gotta stand and deliver—again and again and again. Sunday keeps coming.

Leading: Leaders keep leading. An entire church community looks to the pastor(s) for direction and inspiration. A pastor never casts a vision once. The picture must be painted over and over again, with increasing layers of color, with attention to details for execution. New people arrive and they have to be folded into the vision as well, from square one. Only a one-hit wonder posing as a pastor thinks they can tell the people something once and it ought to stick—or a man delusional about their communication ability.

Prayer: When’s the last time you prayed for something once and it came to pass? When’s the last time you prayed so effectively you got off your knees thinking, That was so good I may never have to pray again? Even our Lord prayed three times that the cup would be removed—and He came to drink the cup. How frequent must the pastor be in intercession, thanksgiving, supplication and all kinds of prayer?

Suffering: Yes, suffering. The faithful pastor, like Paul, fills up in his body the sufferings of the Lord for the sake of the church (). There comes the daily pressure and concern for the congregation (). Notice: daily. Because we are joined to Christ, our Lord’s sufferings overflow into our lives. His comforts do, too. () But it’s all continuing. There’s no take one blow for Christ and then you’re done. There’s daily cross-carrying and daily dying, putting to death.

The best ministry is actually quite repetitive. It’s doing over and over again some basic things. We might have breakthroughs and unusual events or seasons here or there. God may show us such extraordinary grace. But ordinarily pastors chop down oak trees with repeated swings of the ax. No man fells a Sequoia with one mighty blow. Faithfulness is doing over and over again the things that God requires. It’s the ministry life God blesses, not fantastic that fires and fades in an instant.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, (ESV)

28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (ESV)

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

C’mon Up!

  • Tony Carter

    Amen brother! The ministry is “a long obedience in the same direction.” I pray for you, Lou, Phil, and a host of others that we would remember our calling. May Holy Spirit preserve us as we seek to persevere in our daily grind.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Amen!