So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10 – NRSV).

The book of Galatians has two storylines: the theological issue of law observance and circumcision as it relates to faith in Christ; and a more pastoral issue about conversion, sustained changed, and the human tendency to lapse into old patterns and ways of living and thinking. Paul describes this tendency as “bondage” in Galatians. These storylines speak to the difficulty of first seeing and then living into the radical inclusive vision of community rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ but also the difficulty persisting in the good required to make this vision a reality in the world. I contend, my brothers and sisters, that the second storyline does not arrest our attention as much as it should. Signs abound that we are struggling to live into the radical vision of God’s kingdom. For over a decade we have witnessed a national movement to go back to bondages of the past and more recently, there is great fatigue in showing compassion and understanding to citizens with a different history and experience. The second storyline is more relevant now than ever. Grappling with “our” tendency to lapse into old patterns of thinking inform the difficult nature of ministry and advocacy work and form the basis from which I offer these brief comments and a charge.

Sometimes we are too naïve and idealistic about the world in which we live, and the difficult and dangerous nature of the work God calls us to. Look at the example of Jesus when he sent his disciples out to work in his name.

Stay alert. “This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack…Don’t be naive. Some people will question your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end (Matthew 10 – The Message translation).

When is the last time you were told you were working in such conditions? At ordination and graduation services, we send leaders out with naïve perceptions of the world and the work of ministry and advocacy. We don’t tell leaders that after years of careful study and writing hundreds of pages in papers, some people will not appreciate the training and care you bring to your work and others won’t listen.  We don’t tell leaders they might be the personally attacked for standing for justice and truth, targeted by the criminal justice system, or worse yet, killed because you are a such a threat to an unjust status quo.

My decades of experience in ministry and years training and supporting leaders in the classroom and conferences of varied kind taught me an important truth that is a deep conviction I hold. Our churches and theological institutions have to do a better job forming and preparing leaders for ministry and advocacy among the wolves.

Example One – I wrote a book on the issue of clergy suicide nine years ago to raise the church’s awareness of this issue, including institutions committed to training church leaders; and to provide some needed perspective on the complex and difficult dynamics confronting clergy and congregations. Clergy suicide is a product of larger issues. One of the more disturbing aspects of my research was the discovery that most of the pastors who committed suicide had attended either Bible College or Seminary. I was also shocked by data on clergy health. The issues affecting clergy are complex and it appears that a growing number are not only ill-prepared for ministry and not satisfied with the work they do as pastors.

Statistics on Clergy Health

  • 90% feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign from their church at least once.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors say that they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 50% of all congregations in the United States are either plateauing or declining.

Example Two – I also wrote a book on the social and political climate that informs social justice work titled America on the Brink: Musings on Politics, Racism and Religion published as a resource by the institute for Black Church Studies. I wanted to give context to a nation fighting for its soul (and losing).Today some leaders are weary and discouraged because of supreme court decisions that have been overturned (Roe v. Wade & affirmative action). The refusal to correct how history is taught in public schools and now even some colleges and universities and the successful campaign to defund DEI programs and positions are disheartening. They are weary and discouraged because of the hyper-partisan-tribalistic nature of politics, the unrelenting assault on voting rights for African Americans, and our national refusal to commit to economic justice work in the form of reparations. These things are a product of growing undercurrent of nihilism that fuels extremism. Signs also abound that leaders committed to social justice work are discouraged.

I have tried to understand the “wolf-like” nature of this world and offer thoughtful guidance. I have also tried to support leaders carrying out this hard work among the wolves. Both the clergy suicide and public theology book illustrate our collective need to interpret the times in which we live and to hear the words of Galatians 6:9-10 again and again, so we can keep on keeping on.

Fresh Water from Galatians 6

If we are going to persist in doing good work for God, we must be sober about the nature of the world and the work God is calling us to. Our theologians, scholars, ministry practitioners, and political advocates must draw deeply from the well of the gospel to give meaning, hope, and strength to those doing good work.[1] But also, on those hard days and seasons, we must press past the fatigue, doubt, and discouragement that might tempt us to stop, which is why these verses in Galatians mean so much to me. When I preach this text, I often share what I affectionately call the Lewis Brogdon theological translation of Galatians 6:9 which says, “doing gets old, but it makes a difference.”

I have read this passage over and over for the past six years for the ways its insights speak to the challenges we face in ministry and advocacy. This work is weary. It is hard and dangerous. The world refuses to change. Justice and truth are mocked in places of privilege and power. I understand the moments and seasons of discouragement. I have them. I think Paul does, too. But there is something about the gospel that provides a spiritual well and a broader perspective that refreshes and strengthens us in the hardest of moments. There is water in this passage that can refresh weary souls that are neck-deep in good work. Two lessons stand out in my mind. First, Galatians 6 reminds us that God is not mocked. We reap what we sow. Seeds of good work and good things yield a harvest when its time. Reaping the good sown is another way of saying that “doing good makes a difference. Second, the language of “in due season” or “at the right time” have both a temporal and eternal arc. This means that the good we reap for such incredibly difficult work happens in time and beyond time. This bigger eschatological arc provides perspective that this work is bigger than us.

Ministry and advocacy never escape the bounds of human finitude. This is one of our greatest challenges. When it comes to work that brings relief from suffering and a cessation to injustice, we want to see the harvest now. We want the kingdom to come now. This is one of the places in scripture where human time and divine time come into focus in difficult ways. God’s timing and ours are different. This difference can weigh heavily on us. If I can be honest, for a moment, the days and seasons where I felt the weariest, were the ones I found myself trying to bear the weight of work that was too big for me or wanting to see the kingdom in its fullness, so no one has to suffer and die. The daunting truth that I cannot fix the world or eliminate human suffering can be paralyzing. Why keep trying if we can’t fix the problem? Dwelling on this can lead to a paralysis in two ways: (1) we can dwell on how unfair this is for those suffering (the world shouldn’t be this way); or (2) we stop trying because it is not producing the result we want to see. More than a few times in life, I have found myself paralyzed, trying to wrap my mind around how unfair and tragic this all is for so many people. These words in Galatians 6 spoke to me in powerful ways.

What if we reframed the problem by remembering the broader eschatological arc implied by the term “in due season”? What would it mean to know that our inability to fix the world is liberating. How can I say this? I say it because the work we are called to is God’s work that we get to be a part of, not our work that we are responsible for solving. Problems we face were here before we were born and will continue after our death. God has been working to save and move all of creation to a beautiful end in spite of our hell-bent obsession for a tragic one. We play a small part in this big work and cannot wrap our finite minds around the massive scope of the work God is doing in creation. That is liberating.


What do we do on those days and in those seasons we feel like giving up? We turn to Galatians 6 for the reminder that good work is like a seed that yields a harvest whenever it is time according to the purposes of God. I recall my days as a pastor, teaching congregants how to walk by faith or discover their purpose in life. Often, I described it this way. Walking by faith is done one step at a time. God rarely shows us the whole path. Most of the time, we only see the next step. Taking that step, not knowing where it leads or if and when the next one will appear, is an act of faith. Over time and as we walk, we see God’s hand at work in amazing and mysterious ways. We look around to see the ways we walked into our purpose. We see good things around us and wonder, how did we get here, in such a good place? The answer is, we got here one step at a time.

In a real sense that is the wisdom of verse 10. It provides focus and something concrete we can do when confronted with the magnitude of problems we are working on, and the myriad of ways people suffer because of them. Focusing on following through on the many opportunities God and others provide us to do good for all people, especially members of the Christian family. This provides focus and keeps us on the hook to ensure we are doing our part to move God’s work toward that beautiful end. Verse 10 sounds like God saying, just do your part, that is hard enough for you. Instead of the paralysis of analysis, we attend to good work and good things every time an opportunity presents itself.  May these words find good ground in your heart and encourage you as we collectively work among the wolves. Amen.

[1] Humanity lives on the boundary of two worlds, one that is dying and the other that has begun. Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 10:11 that “the ends of the ages have come” reflect “the already and not yet” or “the time between two times” in which we find ourselves. Paul describes this time in between times as “perilous times” in 2 Tim. 3:1 and sees creation in travail in Romans 8:22ff. Both describe the dramatic boundaries that given meaning to our vocation in the world. We live and work in an old world struggling and fighting against the new, which inform the nature of life and our service to God and the world. Doing work on the boundaries of two worlds will always be incredibly difficult.

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