I am brought up short every time I read the phrase “with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Every time. Pastoral ministry requires not just patience, but “complete patience.” “Complete patience” emphasizes the extent to which this quality must be present in our preaching and in our entire ministry. And it is essential, not optional.
Yes, we must be theologically accurate and exegetically precise. But if we fail to be patient with those we are addressing, we aren’t being faithful to fulfill this charge.
I’d argue that pastoral patience is more difficult than theological precision. For most of us, it’s easier to prepare and preach a sermon than to be patient with people. I think this is the most difficult challenge in this passage: “with complete patience.”
Every day of your pastoral ministry, you will face temptations to be impatient with people—or opportunities to cultivate patience with people. There is that guy you have counseled for months, possibly years, who just doesn’t seem to get it. He is sincere, but consistent growth in godliness seems to be lacking from his life. Counseling session after counseling session doesn’t seem to yield any noticeable change.
Or the people who are consistently critical about a minor point in your sermon, or who always notify you about what you failed to address. One time after I finished preaching, a guy approached me and said one thing: “You mispronounced a word.” That’s all he said—without any greeting or small talk. Now, I grew up reading MAD magazine, so I have all kind of snappy answers for what I think are stupid statements. That guy had no idea how evident the power of the Holy Spirit was in my life when I restrained myself from responding.
I was reading an article by a pastor who regularly received anonymous critical letters from someone who signed each note, “The Thorn.” Attached to the first note was an explanation that since the Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh, this writer felt that his pastor should have one, too. So he had appointed himself “The Thorn.” This pastor wanted to find out who The Thorn was and send him an anonymous letter signed, “The Hedge Trimmer.”
Or there’s the person who just wants to talk with you after the sermon and update you on his life—an update that is unrelated to your sermon. He just wants to talk, and it’s as if he didn’t even hear your sermon. You’ve finished preaching, you’re stepping down from the pulpit, you’re tired, and you can see him waiting for you.
I could give you a list of temptations. Your temptation is probably whomever you are thinking about right now.
If you don’t cultivate patience with those you serve and lead, your irritation and frustration will eventually surface. It will become evident in the tone and content of your sermons, your counseling, your conversation after a Sunday meeting. And when you no longer have faith that God is working in your people, and instead find yourself frustrated with your people, your soul will become weary.
In an article in Fast Company magazine, bestselling authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath reported on a surprising study of kids who dropped out of high school. Some Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered that they could predict which students wouldn’t graduate—as early as eighth grade. According to the article, “the school district could identify more than half of the students who would be likely to drop out before they even set foot in high school.”¹ I read that and immediately thought: what if you could identify the early warning signs of a weary and discouraged pastor?
Well, you can. One of the early warning signs is increasing frustration with people—the absence of complete patience.
This post is part of a series entitled “Ordinary Pastors” and is adapted from a message I preached at T4G 2010, which was published in a compilation of sermons from that conference entitled The Unadjusted Gospel (Crossway, 2012. Used by permission.)
¹Dan Heath and Chip Heath, “Business Advice from Van Halen,” March 1, 2010, FastCompany.com, accessed March 8, 2011, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/143/made-to-stick-the-telltale-brown-mampm.html.