Preacher, Don’t Quit!
By Thomas Lindberg
Any preacher who ministers for the Lord is bound to get weary and ask himself, Is the ministry really worth it all? For instance, a pastor takes time away from his own family to help people, and then some complain he did not come soon enough or do more. Preachers are on call 24 hours a day. They sometimes give their day off to conduct a funeral and people ask whether they are busy. They often use part of their vacation for study and people wonder whether they are working hard enough.
The faithful minister must possess many qualities. A key trait every clergyman must possess is persistence. Paul frequently used the word “always”: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58); “always confident” (2 Corinthians 5:6); “always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10); “always giving thanks” (Ephesians 5:20); “always keep on praying” (Ephesians 6:18); and “always having all sufficiency in all things” (2 Corinthians 9:8, KJV). While Paul believed every believer in the church needs persistence, it is supremely true that the minister called by God needs to be persistent in preaching. This article examines the fact the apostles were persistent preachers.
Biblical Examples Of Persistence In Preaching
When Peter wrote to pastors in 1 Peter 5, he charged them to be faithful to God. He challenged them to be willing to serve the church until “the Chief Shepherd appears” (1 Peter 5:4, NASB). The charge was not to be faithful for a short time or even several years; God wanted elders who were persistent in their ministries for Him until the end.
A classic Scripture passage on preaching is 2 Timothy 4:1–5. Paul gave counsel to Timothy about how to fulfill his ministry so it would be pleasing to Christ and profitable to Christians. Paul wrote, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1,2, emphasis added).
The Greek word makrothumia is translated “great patience.” Makrothumia is a compound Greek word comprised of the two words makro (“large”) and thumos (“passion”). Makrothumia presented Timothy with the idea of being persistent in his ministry as a preacher. Perhaps to paraphrase, Paul was saying, “Timothy, don’t give up.”
Paul modeled persistence in his ministry. First Thessalonians 2 is one example of Paul’s persistence. In Acts 16, Paul preached at Philippi. While in that city, Paul was unfairly beaten and placed in the city jail (Acts 16:22–24). After his release, Paul went to Thessalonica (Acts 16:40 through 17:1). He preached in Thessalonica for at least 3 weeks and then had to leave the city because of further opposition (Acts 17:1–10).
Shortly after Paul left Thessalonica, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write a letter to the believers in that city. He recounted his visit to the Thessalonians: “We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Paul was severely mistreated and beaten at Philippi for preaching the gospel; yet when he left Philippi, he traveled to Thessalonica to preach again. A lesser man might have quit. Paul, however, pressed ahead with persistence and proclaimed the gospel in new territory in spite of past injury. It is evident that Paul had an indomitable spirit.
The trait of persistence in preaching is not a novel concept found only in the New Testament. God appointed Jeremiah as a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:4,5). As his ministry lengthened and he felt the pressures of ministry, Jeremiah thought of quitting. He wrote, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention [God] or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). The call of God upon Jeremiah was too real for him to quit. His commissioning included the persistence to finish his life as a prophet to which God had called him.1
The Need For Persistence In Preaching
Despite what some evolutionists may claim, the world is not becoming a better place. Environmentally, politically, criminally, and spiritually the world is in a worse condition today than ever before. This is especially true of the moral climate. Humanism is being expounded at many levels in the Western world. Bertrand Russell, an early proponent of humanism (though a very despairing humanism), wrote:
Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms. There is no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling which can preserve an individual life beyond the grave. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.2
The preacher who faces such despair, problems, and a message that is so contrary to the gospel might be tempted to quit. The pastor who sees many in the community embracing a view of life that rejects God and who are being caught up in the pleasure‑mad, material world can be tempted to ask whether it is worthwhile to keep preaching the Bible.
The attitude of the unsaved that turns from biblical Christianity is not new. Paul told Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). What was Paul’s counsel to Timothy should such an attitude arise? “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (verse 5). Timothy was to remain persistent despite the world’s wanderings.
Persistence in preaching today is additionally necessary because the devil is persistent in opposing the work of God’s kingdom. The preached gospel can bring forth fruit and revival (Mark 4:3–9; Acts 8:5–8). The devil, when losing ground as revival progresses, fights back in a number of ways. Richard Lovelace wrote on this issue and said of the devil:
His main strategies are those of accusation and infiltration. He may attack the subjects of revival directly and internally with despair and discouragement (Jonathan Edwards saw this happen at the close of the first Northampton revival in 1734). He may plant lies, caricatures, or stereotypes in the minds of unbelievers or unrevived Christians so they will reject the work of God and attack its progress. If possible, he will set the leaders of the revival against one another in order to divide and conquer. To create evidence of corroborate accusations he will overbalance the zeal of converts and cause them to run to extremes. Finally, he will sow tares among the wheat in the form of counterfeit revivals, leading people to confound these with the real work which is in progress and to discredit it.3
Such satanic strategy can discourage any preacher. That was why Paul told Timothy that “there will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). But Timothy must not be slowed down. A preacher needs to be persistent in proclaiming the gospel against all hardships.
The Christian pulpit is no place for a quitter. It will never suit a person who has small doses of endurance. A preaching ministry is not a 50-yard dash; it is a long-distance run. The preacher who is called by God will be given the necessary endurance from the Holy Spirit to persist in preaching (Matthew 28:20). We must accept that endurance from God and cultivate more of it in our relationship with Jesus as our ministry turns from months to years to decades.
Where else may a person find the needed resources to persevere in preaching? Whom does the minister serve? God’s ministers in the Bible were set apart to serve the Lord (Exodus 28:1,3,4,41). Of course they served their people, but their first obligation was to please the Lord. The pastor who forgets that ministry is about serving the Lord may lose the spirit of persistence a preacher needs.
The Results Of A Persistent Ministry
A persistent preaching ministry involves hard work. No one is prepared for the ministry of preaching unless there is a willingness to work extremely hard. Phillips Brooks wrote, “You will see I place a very great value on this preparation, in which a man who is devout and earnest comes to that fitness for his work which St. Paul describes in a word he uses twice to Timothy, ‘apt to teach’ — didaktikos — the didactic man. It is not something to which one comes by accidentally or by any sudden burst of fiery zeal.”4
Brooks urges all preachers to persist in their preaching and preparation for preaching. A persistent preaching ministry will bring lasting growth to the minister’s soul. The spiritual growth of a church rises no higher than the spiritual growth of its pastor. The person who is committed to biblical preaching (which includes preparation, proclamation, and personal application) will grow.
In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul wrote, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching.” Paul urged, “Be diligent in these matters” (4:15).
The Greek verb meletao, rendered “be diligent,” means to practice or to attend to something carefully. Paul then continued, “Give yourself wholly to them.” The NASB captures the sense of the phrase well when it translated it, “Be absorbed in them.” The result of Timothy’s diligence would be this: “So that everyone may see your progress.”
The Greek word prokope is translated “progress.” Prokope carries the idea of advancement and growth. Paul said to Timothy (and to today’s preacher) that growth in his life would occur when Timothy persisted in his ministry of biblical preaching.
The possibility exists for a minister to become weary in well‑doing. A pastor must fight the good fight of faith and finish the course. This requires commitment and persistence. Charles Spurgeon spoke of persistence: “The leaf of your ministry will soon wither unless, like the blessed man in the first Psalm, you meditate in the law of the Lord both day and night. . . . Bees are making honey from morning till night, and we should be always gathering stores for our people.”5
Spurgeon urged persistence in a certain dimension of preaching preparation. Let me expand Spurgeon’s thought and state that persistence must capture the entire preaching process; only then will we one day hear from our Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21). Those words from the Lord will make your persistence in ministry well worth all the blood, sweat, toil, and tears.
* Scripture passages, unless noted, are from the New International Version.
Charles Spurgeon knew what it was to have “a fire shut up in his bones.” Spurgeon did not speak of totally quitting the ministry, but he thought of running from his ministry. Spurgeon spoke of the great success he had upon first coming to London as a very young man: “My success appalled me. . . . Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake me to my village obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then the curtain was rising upon my life‑work and I dreaded what it might reveal.” Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1979), 159.
Bertrand Russell, quoted in Bruce Narramore and Bill Counts, Freedom From Guilt (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House Publishers, 1974), 42.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 41. This section of the book addresses the revival under Jonathan Edwards’ preaching in New England.
Phillips Brooks, The Joy of Preaching (1895; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), 53.
Spurgeon, Lectures, 93.