I had the joy this last Sunday of preaching at a local church as a stand in when someone had pulled out relatively last minute. It was a small, but happy church. It got me thinking about where preachers find their encouragement. The world would find their encouragement in numbers, and many preachers think the same. There is a buzz preaching to a few thousand (something I've only done very occasionally). It is harder with a few dozen. We may have good and godly reasons for wanting churches to be bigger - after all, if my church sits 200, say, and there are only 50 in the pews, I might be calling out to God to save 150! That's no bad desire!
But the truth is most preachers are more affected by worldliness than that. There is a kick we get from a full church which massages our egos and makes us feel worthy. I spent almost 10 years ministering in a small (<100) church. I know how it feels and I know (oh, how I know!) the worldly temptations a preacher faces. Very early on I confessed to my Gamaliel that I struggled when the church was almost empty. I found it harder to preach.
'Ah,' he said. 'You're finding your encouragement in the wrong place. Your encouragement comes not from the numbers you have in front of you, nor even the response, but from the task you've been called to do.'
That's a pretty radical idea. After all, imagine you are preaching and there's a great response. Wouldn't you be encouraged? Wouldn't you whoop for joy if, say, there were many conversions? Of course. But if you do so independently of the God who is at work, then the logical conclusion would be that you should be full of discouragement if no one was moved. That's preposterous. No, a preacher's encouragement comes first and foremost from the doing the task he is called to do and knowing that God will do what he will do.
This is Ezekiel in action. 'And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear' (Ezekiel 2.7). Ezekiel had a tough gig. In fact, right from the start, God tells him that his preaching is going to have little or no effect. That would decimate most modern preachers. But no. For Ezekiel the task from Yahweh is what drives him on. So it must be with us.
It's also why, of course, Ezekiel starts with a glorious vision of God on his throne (looking like a man - I take this to be Christ). This, ultimately, is Ezekiel's encouragement. This is the God he is serving.
Preacher, you need to find your encouragement in the right place. Which means, like Ezekiel, you need a big vision of the triune God.