I Thank God for You

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
18 November 2018
Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

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Our sermon text for today comes from the Book of Philemon, the first six verses.

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you…The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

A few years ago the Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development estimated that:

  • 40% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 70% of those who enter the ministry will not last 10 years.
  • Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month the year before the report was published.
  • Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

The stats might vary within the PCA, but this report is sobering enough to make us shiver. If true, it means that some of the pastors you know will not finish what we started; some of us will not last to the end.

Facts are stubborn things. 

In light of these hard realities, a slew of books, articles, DVDs, and conferences — with titles like Dangerous Calling and A Hazardous Vocation — have been produced in recent years to help combat these forces and shore up at-risk pastors.  

Sadly, many of those resources have been produced by pastors who crashed and burned — but survived just long enough to warn others about the risks of pastoral ministry. 

Sadly, for many pastors, the soundtrack of our ministries is dominated by a song by The Clash:

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Especially on Mondays. 

One mega-church used to talk about Bread Truck Monday. The idea was that pastors sit in the after-math of another Sunday and dream about doing something else, like driving a bread truck and delivering bread to customers.

In the past I called it manic-depressive Monday. I was only half-joking. 

Granted, there are many reasons to leave gospel ministry (as any pastor can tell you on Monday morning) – but there are many many reasons to stay in it as well (as many pastors can tell you by Wednesday afternoon). 

After our crazy church meltdown four summers ago, something changed. Not out there, but in here. 

By God’s grace I repented of discontentment and ingratitude in ministry.

I still have some rough days here and there – even a couple of rough days this past week – but overall things have gotten much better. My outlook on life and ministry has changed for the better. 

I have given much thought to these things over the past few years. It seems to me that one of the un-sung secrets of perseverance and endurance in pastoral ministry is thanks-giving.

An attitude of gratitude covers a multitude of disquietude – an attitude of gratitude overcomes the magnitude of solitude. 

Giving thanks is one of Paul’s open secrets for long-lasting pastoral ministry.

Paul was a messenger of thanksgiving and a model of giving thanks. He is one of the most grateful men in all the Bible. 

That makes sense when you take inventory of his whole life: who he was before Christ vs who he became in Christ. 

Some even consider Paul the Apostle of Thanksgiving.

I came across an article that collected all of Paul’s written expressions of thanksgiving. It is impressive for its depth and range. 

I won’t read all the references, but you can see them here when I post these notes on our church blog.

Suffice to say for now that discovering this little secret has helped me immensely as a person and as a pastor, as a partner in marriage and a parent with young adult children. 

It’s so easy (and natural) to sit up late on Sunday and navel gaze or wake up Monday morning and wallow in self-pity. 

It’s so easy to sit around and think of all the things that might have been, that could have been, that should have been. 

It’s so easy to sit in judgment with a critical spirit towards others for all the things they should have done but didn’t, or should not have done, but did anyway. 

It’s easy to focus on what you don’t have, what’s lacking, what’s missing, and so on. 

It’s so easy to feel like the failure of failures in ministry. 

It’s so easy to do all that if you do one little thing — just set aside the gospel of God’s grace in Christ! 

– if you see yourself and others apart from the gospel 

– if you focus on things seen instead of things unseen 

– if you turn inward and navel gaze instead of turning outward gaze anew at the grace and glory of God in Christ.

But we are called to do something else — give thanks in circumstances and all times.

They say that pastors tend to be overly introspective. That’s true even if understated. Some introspection is right and good.

But what pastors need to become is extra-spective. 

They need to look away from themselves and their congregations to the person and work of the Jesus Christ.

And they need to lead the flock under the care to look away from their own weakness and foolishness to the power and wisdom of the cross.

This is how Paul approached ministry. And that is why he was able to write the things he did to his friend and brother Philemon. 

By God’s grace and providence, I just completed 25 years of ministry. I’ve served as your pastor for a dozen years now. My relationship with this congregation goes back even farther. We were partners in a mission work 15 years ago. 

So, more than half my ministry has been connected to this congregation. 

We have been through many ups and downs together. And now I have some bitter-sweet news to tell you. 

As long as we stick together, we will go through many more ups and downs. It’s all part of dying and rising in union with Christ; it’s all part of cross-bearing.

Although I do try to show it, I don’t say it often enough:  

I thank my God always when I remember you, both inside and outside my prayers –  

[for lots of personal and specific reasons mentioned in the sermon] 

Above all, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints. 

[the gospel is taking root in your heart and life]

We have not grown as much as we have hoped and prayed, but I still pray that our missional efforts – the sharing of your faith with each other and with others – may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 

Finally, I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of many saints have been refreshed through you.

[more specific instances and references]

Pastoral Prayer