Panning for God

The painting “Panning For Gold at Stutter’s Fort” by American muralist and illustrator Dean Cornwell is a living monument to the hopes of humanity. It has captivated me for nearly three decades. Years ago, I rescued the framed print from the trash at the home of my grandmother’s friend who was moving. Decades later, my wife encouraged me to toss it, but I couldn’t do it. Maybe it is because of the story of how I came into possession of it. Or maybe because of the rugged features of the men. Or it could be the optimism found in one man’s face as the group prepares for the time they strike gold. 

The truth is I’ve kept this print because it gives a vivid image of where the church is today. The world is dirty and lost and needs pastors to share the gospel to change hearts. 

Go Into the Hard Places.

You enter a church with such optimism and leave battered and broken. Why is ministry so hard? It is messy, but it does not have to drain a leader spiritually. I wish every pastor had churches filled with people and a standing-room-only crowd, but far too many have fewer than 65 people weekly in attendance, and the pastor wonders if they are effective. 

The simple answer is yes. The long answer is it takes time, so do not give up. If you are pastoring with a heart for others, you serve your God-given purpose. Sadly, the comparison game has negatively affected the self-worth of a pastor, and it has caused spiritual envy. 

God did not call you to go into the accessible places where gold would be found, but the hard places where ministry must drill down into the community to find a solid foundation to build the church. In these dark places, ministers have given up or even walked away from that spiritual gold waiting for a Christ follower to share their faith. Be willing to go into the hard places where a church needs revitalization or into a dying community where the community needs a holiness church to preach, teach and live of Christ daily.  

Adjust to Meet the Needs in Front of You.

I wish I could take seminary and Bible college professors who have not pastored in years back into the local church, so they could understand what their students are going to face in today’s culture. Even if you are prepared with book knowledge to tackle some issues, a new pastor will find out quickly that knowledge and application are two different things. 

The forty-niners of old who panned for gold knew there was an opportunity to find gold, but they had to be willing to do the hard work to achieve their dream. The same is true in ministry. If a minister is willing to adjust to the needs they find in front of them, they will find a way to find the gold and win the lost in society.

Stay Put When Things Get Hard.

Depending on the denomination, a pastor’s average service span is less than 3.5 years per assignment, and for far too many, it is less than two years. Why? The simple answer is that churches are looking for Superman and the silver bullet that will solve all the church’s problems instead of partnering with their current leader to work through issues that arise and to find God amid ministry. 

The men who searched for gold were willing to leave their families and live a rough lifestyle to achieve a dream. To accomplish the vision God has placed on the local church’s heart, they (pastor and church members) must find a way to stay together, stay united, and stay committed to moving forward to achieve all God has for them. It will take time, patience and practical ministry to serve daily as the hands and feet of Jesus. 

Commit to staying put when things get hard as you evaluate your current assignment or contemplate moving to a new position. God uses these challenging moments to create lasting examples that will help you keep digging for the promises he placed inside you and the local church. 

Ministry is challenging, but you do not have to come up empty-handed in your service to the local church and God. You can find joy in the simplicity of serving in the hard places and keep digging for the spiritual gold of leading others to Christ.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.