The penultimate encouragement the Hughes urge us to take is from fellow workers. Personally, I found this chapter incredibly helpful because it deals with the issue of depression. Let me be clear – I don’t think I suffer from depression. I have known and worked with people with different forms of depression, and it is an incredibly debilitating place to find yourself in. I am not comparing myself to them. But I also don’t know many ministers who won’t testify to the blues, the doldrums of ministry when this gospel work just gets you down. Mark Driscoll speaks of ‘bread truck Mondays’, where he wakes up and wishes he could just go and drive a bread truck – no people, no pressure, and when you get hungry you’ve got fresh bread to eat. The Hughes’ quote Luther, Spurgeon, Whyte, and others, who speak of the difficulties of ministerial depression. And they go on to quote Paul in 2 Cor 7:6 who speaks of his own depression (see the NASB) and to exegete this text so as to get to the cause, and the cure, of this malaise.
They identify that Paul’s depression was due to him being physically worn out, being pressured, and being fearful. I’m not sure I could tell you a week, in fact probably a day, in the past three months where I haven’t felt one, and sometimes all three, of those things. They are just the reality of ministry, it seems. Helpfully the Hughes identify that these factors come from Paul’s very heart for ministry: ‘The bigger the ministerial heart, the greater is the potential for the flesh have no rest – conflicts without – and fears within.’ While they don’t go on to address it, they implicitly touch upon a ‘cure’ for ministerial depression. Harden your heart. You won’t find ministry hard if you don’t care about the people you are ministering to. You won’t be hurt by them if you don’t love them. Brothers, watch that you don’t slip into this cure. It sounds perverse, and I’m sure some of you will strongly disagree, but make sure that you keep on feeling for your flock. Love them. Share your life with them. Rejoice in their victories and grieve over their failures. Depression in ministry is bad. But not feeling at all for your people surely has to be much much worse.
The Hughes’ go on to see that Paul himself was comforted by the coming of Titus. It was this relationship which buoyed him and in particular the message that Titus brought – that the Corinthians loved him, they were concerned for him, they felt for him. They then turn to a number of practical steps. Cultivate those relationships where you are encouraged by others, and where you can encourage others. They suggest keeping every encouraging note that has been sent to you about your ministry. I myself have done that, and while the collection isn’t very big (!), there are few things more encouraging than pulling out a note from someone I really respect and reading that they think I’ve done good ministry, and urging me to do more. Friends, keep up those relationships. If you don’t have them, go and make them. Let your brothers and sisters share the pain and heartache of ministry, and urge you on in your faithfulness and proclamation. Look out yourself for people that you can genuinely encourage, and think about how you do that. I’ve found that a handwritten note means far more to people than a phone call, an email, or even a face to face comment. There are plenty in the world, and unfortunately in the church, who would discourage us from our work. Let’s spur one another on, encouraging each other in the task set before us. (images varsity.ca and jupiterimages.com)