Discouragement and Preaching

I was in a room alone with Haddon Robinson, author of Biblical Preaching, and another examiner. He and a colleague had read through my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Haddon is kind, but he's not afraid to tell it like it is. I was concerned by what he'd find in my thesis that just didn't measure up.


I don't remember a lot of his comments from that day, but I remember one. My thesis was on God-centered preaching, which, I argued, is far better than  the human-centered preaching that is so easy to do. At one point I argued that God-centered preaching is much less discouraging. "One of the reasons for discouragement in preaching may be that an anthropocentric [human-centered] approach is unsatisfying, whereas a theocentric [God-centered] approach brings us to the only source of eternal satisfaction and joy," I wrote.

"I don't agree with that," Haddon said. He explained that discouragement is part of ministry, and that no kind of preaching would help a preacher avoid it.

I'm grateful for Haddon's correction. I don't get discouraged often, but when I do I remind myself that it's part of ministry.

I changed the paragraph to one that met with Haddon's approval:

Discouragement is part of the assignment of preaching, but a theocentric approach reminds us that our sufficiency is not found in ourselves. God, not the preacher, is the only source of eternal satisfaction and joy.

The Temptations Pastors Face

Reading Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine has been good for my soul. Eswine understands the temptations that pastors face, and I find that I have to read his book occasionally to help my soul. He identifies three temptations that I know very well: celebrity (wanting to be famous), immediacy (impatience), and advancement. (Eswine is coming out with an updated version of the book this month, and I'll be reviewing it soon.)

Scott Thomas, C2C National Associate Director and author of Gospel Coach, also understands these temptations. I was talking to Scott about the temptations to match the standards of success in other fields, like business. Scott mentioned two ministry vows. They're different from the Catholic ministry vows, but I've also found them helpful as I think about them:

  • The Vow of Financial Moderation — This doesn't mean that pastors have to be poor. It does mean that we choose to live simply, never more than middle class. It means that we're not driven by greed or motivated by financial gain.
  • The Vow of Obscurity — This means that pastors aren't motivated to make a name for themselves. We count it a privilege to serve our people, even if we're never recognized by others.

Eswine's book, and Thomas's vows, provide the corrective I need more than I'd like to admit. I don't need to be famous; Jesus is famous. I don't have to rush, because patience is a pastoral virtue. I don't have to advance myself, because it is a privilege to serve these people in this place. I don't have to be motivated by money, and I can labor in obscurity, because that's what it means to be a pastor.

The fruit from that kind of ministry is far more rich and satisfying than the fruit of ministry that seeks celebrity, immediacy, advancement, and money.

Churches as Organized Complexity

In his book Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder, Ken Greenberg reflects on what he learned about cities from Jane Jacobs. Jacobs taught that there are three kinds of problems:

  • problems of simplicity, which deal with two variables
  • problems of disorganized complexity, which deal with more variables that are not connected
  • problems of organized complexity, which deal with more variables that are connected in subtle ways

Cities, according to Jacobs, are forms of organized complexity. "Cities are not simple mechanical constructs," writes Greenberg, "nor are they randomly chaotic. Instead, as if better understood through the science of living organisms, cities are problems in organized complexity." Cities are full of unexamined, intricate relationships.

If cities are viewed as problems of simplicity, then mechanical approaches would work. But because cities aren't mechanical, a different approach is needed:

The conceptual shift from an inert mechanical model of the city to an evolving biological one suggests a whole new vocabulary for describing what happens in cities. In environments that are more like gardens than factories, it can be said that ideas, relationships and initiatives are seeded, spawned, fertilized and grown. Grafting and weeding occur and hybrids emerge. (Kindle Locations 935-937)

The role of an urban designer changes. The role becomes collaborative. There's not much room for superstars, and the answers aren't immediately apparent. He quotes Dick Broeker, former advisor to the mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota: “Beauty is born ugly."

As I've been reading Greenberg's book, I've been thinking about the parallels in church life. Churches, too, are forms of organized complexity. Scripture is replete with images of the church and the kingdom that are agricultural and biological.

What does this mean? Mechanical approaches to church life aren't going to be much help. There's not a lot of room in the church for superstars. The unexamined, intricate relationships within the church will shape the culture of a church far more than we realize. We learn as we grow together. Nobody has all the answers. We can seed, spawn, weed, and fertilize, but we can't make anything grow. The growth process is awkward and sometimes ugly, but the results can be beautiful.

I love watching the church grow, and realizing that while I play a role, I'm only part of something that's much bigger and much more glorious than what I can plan

Faithfulness in Small Places

As a church planter, it's hard to be that impressed with one's ministry. Church plants are, by definition, humble things, and everything is still embryonic. I love the people in our church, the culture that's developing, and the mission, but we're certainly not big or flashy.

I'm not alone. As I speak in other churches, I find few that are impressive. Again, the people are great, and the ministry significant, but it always seems that things are humble, and that the real action is taking place elsewhere. It's tempting to wish that we were there, rather than in the small, humble places where we serve.

As I prepared a sermon last week on the parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27), I was struck by the idea that the servants in the parable were entrusted with only a small amount, the equivalent of a hundred days' wages. It seemed like a humble amount, but faithfulness was still required.

Speaking on this parable, Charles Spurgeon noted:

He gave to each of them a pound. “Not much,” you will say. No, he did not intend it to be much. They were not capable of managing very much. If he found them faithful in “a very little” he could then raise them to a higher responsibility. I do not read that any one of them complained of the smallness of his capital, or wished to have it doubled.

Brothers, we need not ask for more talents, we have quite as many as we shall be able to answer for. Preachers need not seek for larger spheres: let them be faithful in those which they now occupy. A brother said to me, “I cannot do much with a hundred hearers,” and I replied, “You will find it hard work to give in a good account for even a hundred people.” I confess it very quietly, but I have often wished that I had a little congregation, that I might watch over every soul in it; but now I am doomed to an everlasting dissatisfaction with my work, for what am I among so many? I can only feel that I have not even begun to do the hundredth part of what needs to be done in such a church as this.

...You say, “It is not much.” The Master did not say it was much, on the contrary, he called it “very little”; but have you used that very little?

My ministry and my talents aren't impressive, but I'm called to be faithful with what he's given me. Although it's tempting to pay attention to what others with more talents and bigger ministries are doing, God has called us to pay attention to what we're doing, and to be faithful with what he's given us. What we have may not be much, but it's enough for us to be faithful. Then perhaps we'll hear Jesus say, "Well done, good servant!" (Luke 19:17). Faithfulness, even in small places, counts for eternity.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Top Quotes from Sensing Jesus

If you are a pastor, I can't recommend Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine enough. It gets at the heart of my idolatries, which is why I need to read it regularly. It reminds me of Eugene Peterson's pastoral books, and The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. This, my friends, is a compliment.

Here are eight of my favorite quotes from Sensing Jesus:

On looking to upgrade our ministries — Therefore, those of you searching for something larger, faster, and more significant, who feel that if you could just be somewhere else doing something else as somebody else, then your life would really matter— Jesus has come to confound you. (p. 40)

On our desire for celebrity and advancement — He alone is the famous one. Jesus values waiting, not haste. His views regarding what it means to advance often have little to do with changing positions, sizes, or geographies. How then do we find strength and joy for the long smallness we often endure and feel? (p. 172)

On our desire for greatness — Our goal of greatness isn’t the problem. How we define the word great is. (p. 37)

On learning our limits and relinquishing our dreams — To relinquish; to admit that some dreams are presumptuous; to acknowledge that some needs outlast me; to recognize my inability to fully supply what is lacking; to admit that I am limited; to say no to competition with brothers and sisters, and to give to others what I strongly desired for myself; and in it all to still take up the pen or give voice to preach Jesus— these indicate a surrender to noble limits. (p. 19)

On the fact we'll be forgotten — God is the remembered one. But this does not mean we are forgotten— not by him. Not by a long shot. In fact, being remembered by him means we no longer fear being forgotten by the world. Living humanly within his remembrance is enough. (p. 19)

On greatness and humanness — Greatness, even in ministry, cannot escape humanity. How did I ever begin to assume that it was supposed to? Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries. (p. 30)

On feeling out of our depth — We concluded that if we were to say to God, “Father, I constantly feel out of my depth,” God would gently ask, “And why is that a problem?” (p. 36)

On the ways we lead the church — Many of us in ministry and family leadership hastily dynamite our way through obstacles and people. We create well-respected and efficient organizations and homes but leave a trail of persons and places obliterated in our wake. Ironically, we often unnecessarily hurt people in the name of building God’s organization and doing God’s work. (p. 155)

My copy of Sensing Jesus is dog-eared and marked. It's one of those books that I need to read when my motivations for ministry get out of whack. In other words, I need to read it often.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.