Discouragement is simply part of ministry. If you’re in Christian ministry, prepare to be discouraged at least some of the time. It’s not always a sign that you’re doing something wrong. It is inevitable because of the nature of the work, the attack of others, and our own insecurities and idols.
So how do we handle discouragement? Here are some suggestions.
Realistic expectations can help us with the inevitable discouragement that we’ll face. Spurgeon is so helpful here:
Be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience…Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world…Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord.
When I started ministry, someone told me that every pastor will have at least one tough pastorate; just pray it’s not your first. I’ve found that this is generally true.
It’s normal. You will be betrayed and you will feel disappointed. Set your expectations realistically.
Watch Where You Get Your Identity
You are not your ministry. Zack Eswine once asked of a pastor who took his own life: Did he know that he didn’t have to be a pastor to be loved or to make a difference? Soon enough, Eswine had to ask this question of himself. It’s a question that all of us should ask. Never base your identity on your role, or how well or badly things are going.
It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to compare one’s ministry to that of another pastor, or give in to the need to impress others and be liked.
The only remedy for these ministry idolatries and all others is the gospel because it announces, among many things, we are justified, accepted, loved, and satisfied by God in Christ.
Until pastors discover and embrace their identity in Christ—which is accomplished by Christ and received by faith, not works—they will keep trying to find their identity in their position, their preaching, their persona, and their programs.
We understand this theologically. The tricky part is living it. Our identity is in Jesus, not in our ministries. We forget this to our own peril.
Practice Self Care
According to David Murray in his new book Reset, pastors are bad at self-care. “Surveys reveal that pastors relegate physical exercise, nutrition, and sleep to a much lower priority than the average worker,” he writes. We’re not practicing proper self-care. “It’s not selfish to replenish energy and renew vitality in order to serve God and others better,” writes Murray.
Spurgeon would agree. “There can be little doubt that sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency in some constitutions,” he wrote.
Pastors: go for a bike ride. Take a day off. Take your vacations and sabbaticals. Laugh with friends. Prioritize sleep and rest. You’ll be much better prepared for the discouragement of ministry.
Get Help From God and Others
Finally, get help from God and others. Use the psalms as a template for pouring out your heart before God. He can handle how you feel. He cares.
Find others who are safe. Share openly with friends. Take advantage of counselors and the clergy care resources out there.
Discouragement is inevitable in ministry, but it’s not the last word. Expect it, but take action against it. Get your identity from Christ, not your ministry; practice self-care; and get help from God and others. God cares; he loves and works through pastors and church leaders who face discouragement.
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And if you want to contact Darryl, you can email him at feedback@DashHouse.com.