Perseverance in a Pastor’s Life
Dr. Lt. Col. V. I. Luke
Perseverance is one of the most important Christian virtues a believer should desire to develop during the course of his/her Christian life. This becomes all the more important in a pastor’s life. It will be significant to look at the various meanings of the words like Perseverance and Pastor to understand the article better.
Definiton of Perseverence
The Hebrew word sarah is used in the Bible for 'perseverance' which means ‘to persist, exert or persevere’. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament(OT), the word refers to either confidence in or waiting on the power or the faithfulness of God (Ps37:9; Isa 51:5; Mic 7:7;Zeph 3:8 ). It is closely linked with the idea of hope (Ps 5:11). On the other hand in the New Testament (NT), the Greek word hypomone is translated as “endurance” (NET) or “perseverance” (NIV) which literally means “an abiding under.” Sometimes, it is translated “patience.” Patience may be passive, that is, endurance under the general trials of life, Christian service or discipline. It may also be active (perseverance) which involves persistence in well-doing, fruit-bearing and running the appointed race (Heb 12:1-3) despite trials and distractions of life. The verb meno, is often used of God’s permanence in contrast to the uncertainty of human beings and the world. Therefore while defining perseverance there is the idea of energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trials.
Who is a Pastor?
The word 'pastor' is a loan word from the Latin language which means “shepherd.” Moreover the title “pastor” refers to a shepherd in both Greek and Hebrew.
The OT uses the Hebrew word rooeh from the verb râ‘âh, which means to tend (a flock), graze or rule. So a pastor can be a shepherd, leader or ruler. It is mentioned 173 times and describes sometimes for the feeding of the sheep (Gen 29:7), or for the spiritual feeding of human beings (Jer 3:15). In the N T, the Greek noun poimēn is usually translated as shepherd, pastor or ruler.
In bringing together the Hebrew and Greek terms for shepherd/pastor and their verbal equivalents, the motive of pastoring should be love for the Lord, and willingness to serve as His delegates, for the benefit of His people. The conduct of a pastor should be that of servant-leadership: exemplifying the new life, caring for those with needs, and guiding, directing, correcting, and unifying the congregation as a whole. The predominant method of pastoring should be by giving sound teaching, especially to protect against “wolves,” i.e., warning people of false teachers as they arise.
Perseverance and Pastoral Ministry
The pastoral ministry is one of the five fold ministries in the New Testament. From the various aforementioned definitions of a pastor and perseverance we realize a truth that the pastoral ministry is not at all an easy one to do. The nature of pastoral work typically requires a great amount of physical, emotional and spiritual energy to persevere.
It is to be noted that most of the leaders in the Bible were shepherds. One of the best person whose life can be emulated as a pastor is Moses. I believe that the experience that produced a pastoral heart in him was the experience with the sheep. God must have deliberately placed him among the sheep for forty years. The sheep usually have four notable natures that are instrumental in forming a pastoral or persevering heart in a shepherd.
1) They are comparably unintelligent animals. So they need constant guidance to protect them from getting lost or misguided from the flock.
2) They are very delicate and so it becomes imperative to deal with them gently, courteously and patiently.
3) They are vulnerable and so need to be constantly watched over in order to protect them from falling into any deceptive plan of the enemy or the wolves in sheep’s skin.
4) They are undefensive. So the shepherd should be ready to protect them from any possible danger any time.
Moses’ forty years of experience with the sheep made him patient, meek, steadfast under pressures. This persevering spirit kept him going during the forty years of wilderness journey with the Israelites. There are times when pastors tend to give up because of various pressures in the ministry fields both from within and without. Always remember God is preparing something in you for a future ministry. Although we can quote from the lives of several servants of God in India, following are some brief persevering experiences of two men of God and their families in two different villages of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). They are serving the Lord for more than three decades at one place.
We will also see the choices they had to make to remain faithful to God, and how each was affected by the choices. Through their lives, we will glean truths about running with perseverance as believers as well as pastors.
Pr. P. T. Samuel and Pr. M. Cherian along with their family are serving the Lord in two different parts of J&K namely Reasi and Garhi, since nineteen seventies. Although these two places are separated by huge mountains with a distance of approximately 60 kms, the experiences are similar in many respects. The sole purpose of describing these challenging experiences are to encourage the servants of God and even believers, who are not much known in a wider circle and are toiling for years faithfully in their faith and ministry life. May God’s name be glorified. This is also to covet your prayers for them as well as for the very less known state of India. A brief description about the land of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is given below.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is known as the crown of India is situated in the extreme north of India. It is 222,236 sq kilometres in area, consisting of 22 districts and a population of little over ten million people. The people speak basically four languages namely Urdu, Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladakhi and belong to all the major four religious faiths of India. There are altogether 128 People groups, 6652 Villages and 280 Pin codes.
A major portion of J&K State consists of the western Himalayas, which besides many lofty mountain ranges with varying heights of 3000 to 6000 metres above the sea level. It also abounds in rivers, lakes, passes, glaciers, plateaus and plains.
Pr. P. T Samuel, got the burden and reached the hilly village of Reasi in1972 along with his newly wedded wife, unaware of the awaiting challenges. Apart from staying in a geographically tough and politically sensitive region, the pastor and family faced several physical, emotional and spiritual struggles during the last 41 years.
Physically, for the people coming from the extreme south of India, it was difficult to cope up with the intense cold climate and totally a new kind of food and water. As a result, in the initial days they had constant stomach problems. Apart from this at least two times the opposers of the gospel abused the pastor physically with no one to rescue. But they still persevered.
Emotionally the challenges were many. The delay in the breakthroughs in the field resulted in mental tension for the first ten years. Several times there were no real moral supports from the top leadership of the organization. Foodless situation and the future of the children were matters of concern for this family. Apart from these, several times the local people despised this family, misunderstanding them as agents of the British because of their religious identity. Sometimes the people even looked down upon the wife of the pastor for not wearing any ornaments. In this culture wearing ornaments was one of the essential indications of a married woman. At times these issues led to emotional breakdowns. But they persisted.
Spiritually, the continuous warfare from the five so called gods (spiritual strongholds) of this area also gave them a tough time as there was very little spiritual support from the new believers. The opposition from those who did not understand the truth of the gospel was too much. The lie that was spread among the newly converted people kept increasing the number of backsliders. The fact is that once a person accepts the Lord he is usually excommunicated from his village and other social activities.
Apart from being used by God over these years, all the five children were blessed both spiritually and academically. They are either in the full time or part time ministry of the Lord.
Despite of all these challenges the pastor persevered mainly because of the three reasons;
a) The assurance of the calling he once received (2 Pet 1:10).
b) The Word of God that encouraged them time and again during each problem.
c) The continuous trust in the Lord of host and the hope developed due to the answers to the prayers.
Pr. M. Cherian resigned his job from the Indian Air Force and joined his Saviour’s army in a village called Garhi in 1979. Garhi is a mountainous village in the politically sensitive district of Udhampur.
Like Pr. P. T. Samuel this family too have their share of the physical, emotional and spiritual struggles they encountered in the field during the past 34 years.
In the initial days, learning the language and culture was a tedious task but God did not fail them. Walking miles even in the severe winter without proper means of transportation to share the gospel was a matter of physical concern in those days. This part of the country experiences six months of winter. Washing clothes and vessels was a big challenge during the extreme cold months for a woman who had been raised in warm climate. As a result she would get chill bites on her fingers and other physical ailments but this did not deter her from doing the Master’s work.
Emotionally, this family went through constant mental struggles due to the opposition from the surrounding people for long years. Some taunted them as Madrasis (outsiders) while others wanted them to quit the land and leave the place. Threats to pastor’s life also became a matter of concern both for the members of the church as well as the pastor’s family. But God gave them grace to endure.
Garhi belongs to a strategically important district. It is therefore vulnerable to the attacks from the terrorists and the neighbouring country. This have sometimes created an imaginary fear in the mind. In those days there were no phone facilities and it took more than a week to receive a letter from a relative staying approximately 3,500 kilometers away from them, which is in the extreme south of the country. Usually funeral sessions used to be a time of family reunion for the relatives. Due to the delay in receiving the news, the pastor sometimes missed the funeral sessions of his closest relatives including his own father. But God comforted him during those times. At a later stage there were several offers to move to a more comfortable ministry place. These were times of testing for him and his family. During these times the promise from the word of God like Deut.28:8, kept him going and enabled him to stay content in all kinds of situation. There was no human assurance of any financial support. So, the concern regarding the future of their two children occasionally haunted them. Nevertheless, God proved his servant’s children better than others. One of them is in the full time ministry and the other is serving the Lord along with a secular job.
Spiritual dryness was another struggle that was faced during the first 10 years. The pastor walked the length and breadth of the district to a great extent expecting someone to be saved. When the hard work didn’t work, the Lord advised him to fast and pray. Hereafter fasting became part of pastor’s regular schedule until his health permitted. This led to a big breakthrough in the beginning of the nineties. God confirmed His word through numerous miracles. The church that started with just a couple of army people is now packed with 95% native believers from a surrounding of 10-20 kms. The most amazing thing is that a small church building which can seat only 100-150 people has witnessed more than 100 people from this church as missionaries to different parts of India and even abroad.
When things seemed too difficult and unbearable following things kept the pastor and the family to persevere.
1) The continuously echoing sound of the great Call of the Lord which he received in his secular Office in 1979.
2) The trust in the promises given in the Word of God, kept him going.
3) The continuous fasting and prayer life that kept him overcoming some of the most difficult struggles.
4) The wonderful reports of the people who had started their spiritual journey from this church.
5) The reminder “By standing firm you will gain life (Lk. 21:19).”
We live in a world, which according to Jesus will surely have trouble (Jn 16:33). Some trials and tribulations simply come from living in this fallen world and are those which are common to man. Some trouble is the unique variety that afflicts a child of God living in an unbelieving world. Some of our trials are internal (Romans 7) as we yearn to grow in grace, but find sin still firmly rooted within us. Whatever the brand of struggles we face, we need a secure hope in order to “hang in there” over a lifetime of growing in grace.
In Hebrews 6:19 hope is called an “anchor for the soul.” That is a tremendous image, the picture of an anchor giving security and stability to a ship in the midst of a storm. That is what hope does for us, and more (Romans 5:2-5). We can remain steadfast, trusting God through present difficulties and pains, because we know the outcome. Only with a secure hope rooted in the faithfulness of God will we be able to weather the storms of life. It is our total confidence that Christ will complete the work He began in us that enables us to persevere over a lifetime. Without hope, people give up. The Christian life must not only be empowered by faith alone; it must also be sustained by hope.
So let us run our race persevering and fixing our eyes on Jesus who is the supreme model of perseverance and the one who gives us ultimate motivation (Heb 12). If the Biblical heroes of faith, like Peter, Paul, the church fathers and all the faithful men and women of God persevered, you too can with God’s help. Someone rightly said ‘Quitters will never win and winners will never quit.’ So, let’s never give up.