On Not Giving Up

By Justin Dean    |    May 29, 2023

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Being a Pastor is hard. Doing Ministry is difficult. Building a Christian institution, whether a family, business, school, or church, has always been wrought with adversity. But things have changed for us here in America. To use a sports metaphor, the game seems to have changed from golf to hockey. Golf is hard, but it’s a game of technique. Improving your technique is the answer to most of your frustrations on the course. In hockey, you’ve got all the technique development challenges that go along with golf, but you also have to account for the reality that someone is trying to punch you in the face or check you into a wall at full speed.

When I began my ministry just over twenty years ago, pastoral ministry felt more like a round of golf. Most people liked me, most parents wanted their kids to attend our church’s youth ministry, and our church shared many of the same core biblical values that made Iowa folks known for being “Iowa nice.” I don’t think it was a coincidence that you had to join the men’s monthly golf outing in the church where I was saved if you wanted to be in a discipleship relationship with an older man. Many of the pastors I meet with regularly are saying the same thing, “something has changed.” There is speculation about what exactly has changed, but the reality is that the Christian life seems to involve significantly more fighting than it used to twenty years ago. So if we are going to be faithful leaders, we must adapt our leadership to meet the demands of our new cultural environment. Technique is still important, but much more important is developing the kind of tenacity that keeps moving forward when the punches are flying.

Tenacious comes from the Latin tenere and tenax, which mean to hold, occupy, and possess. This etymology is reflected in our English word tenacious, defined as “persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.” My mom called this being “bull-headed”, but I think the word the Bible uses most often to describe this trait is actually steadfastness.

Now, let me point out the obvious here, this is not a trait that our culture—obsessed with progress, evolution, and fluidity—finds positive. In one sense, being immovable is the opposite of being progressive. When you peruse the leadership section of Amazon, you read a lot about being fluid, adaptive, and malleable. Our culture craves change and assumes that any change is better than staying fixed firmly in place. Nobody wants their organization to go the way of the dodo bird.

If we are going to be faithful leaders, we must adapt our leadership to meet the demands of our new cultural environment.”

—Justin Dean

Last year, as I led my congregation through the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, I learned that steadfastness is the superpower of highly effective and successful leaders who lead in an antagonistic culture. Now, steadfastness is not a word you often hear in our society. There are far more leadership books about focus, vision, and passion than there are books about steadfastness. But, after the fear of God, steadfastness is the most important leadership trait a Christian can have. And without this ability, it is unlikely that you will be a successful leader for any period of time.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). What is the work of the Lord? Keeping the faith, loving our wives, discipling our kids, sharing the gospel with our friends and acquaintances, serving our church, giving our tithes and offerings, being hospitable to others in our home, and building Christian institutions. Paul says that we should do these things with steadfastness.

Nehemiah’s Example

When you are steadfast, you are not easily distracted; you don’t let bad weather, poor circumstances, or a few fights stop you from doing the work of the Lord. You are faithful in season and out of season. We see what steadfastness looks like in the life and ministry of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had multiple types of opposition. He had shots coming at him from different angles. He had enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah, trying to stop the work through outright slander, fear-mongering, threats, and distraction (Neh. 6). “For they wanted to frighten us, thinking. ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done’” (Neh. 6:9). And Nehemiah had enemies within in his own camp who had been bought by Sanballat and Tobiah who worked to stop the work the Lord had called him to. “For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me” (Neh. 6:13). What was Nehemiah’s response?

Nehemiah refused to deviate from the mission God had given him. He chose to be steadfast and unmovable. He said to his enemies, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:3).

Then, as the opposition continued to build and his detractors came at him four more times in the same way, Nehemiah’s enemies sent an open letter to the Persian king, calling Nehemiah a rebel and insurrectionist against the Persian king Nehemiah prayed in response, saying “But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (Neh. 6:9). He met opposition with his faith in God and took his weakness to God in prayer.

Nehemiah modeled godly tenacity and steadfastness. He had the ability, strengthened by God, to move forward and hold fast according to his calling no matter what obstacle came against him. Faithful ministry will test your mettle. Develop the capacity to meet strain and difficulty with fortitude and resilience.

Other Biblical Models of Steadfastness

Listen to how the brother of Jesus commends to us developing steadfastness. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). How is our faith tested? Are you facing enemies, slander, doubt, fear, suffering, or persecution? James says that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. In other words, if you want strong faith, it has to be tested with difficulties and trials. He goes on in the same verse, saying, “and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Steadfastness is a Christian virtue that is developed in the process of sanctification.

When the Apostle Paul was in a similar situation with enemies all around him, he wrote, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:1–5).

Paul encourages us when we are in doubt because the opposition is raging. In those moments, he encourages us to think about Jesus. Jesus was the most steadfast man to ever live. He was absolutely immovable when it came to His mission to destroy the works of the Devil and save us from our sins. Jesus was constant in steadfastness. His belief and trust in the Father was firm and never wavered, even when tempted, persecuted, and slandered. Jesus was determined to please God in everything He did. Nothing would stop Him from going to the cross to pay the price for our sins and to earn God’s favor and blessing for us. The disciples tried to talk him out of it. But the Bible records that he set his face like flint as he accomplished redemption.

Jesus didn’t let anything distract or deter him from his calling. And Jesus finished his work.

The life of faith is hard. Our enemies are all around us—including our own sin and the armies of hell arrayed against us. In whatever we face, we can follow Nehemiah’s example and respond, “I am doing a good work and can’t come down. Lord, strengthen my hands.” So many of our doubts would be cured if we just kept our hand to the plow and kept reading our Bibles, praying, preaching the gospel to ourselves, attending church, showing up to serve, getting counsel from the pastors, and stubbornly plod forward.

Justin Dean

Justin Dean is lead pastor of Sacred City Church in Davenport, Ia.

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