Encouragement. It sometimes seems ministry is all discouragement and no encouragement. Darkness falls on pastors of large churches with tremendous influence as well as pastors of small, rural churches that are just struggling to keep the doors open. Devotion, faithfulness and obedience are wonderful things but they do not grant immunity from hard times. Discouragement is inevitable, continually living in it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few practical steps you can take that may help you see the light of encouragement at the end of the tunnel.
Cut the grass.
I know how unspiritual that sounds. I’m supposed to tell you to spend more time reading the Puritans. There’s a time for that. But, believe it or not, there’s also a time for mowing your lawn. And no, I’m not speaking allegorically. The lawn mower doesn’t represent your Bible and the tall grass your sin. For this step you need a real lawn mower and some actual grass.
Ministry takes time. There will be seasons when you wonder to yourself how people who just listened to you preach through the book of James could still say the things they do to each other. There will be people you counsel who tend to take more steps backward that forward. And if you’re not careful, you’ll start to think that you’re wasting your time. You’re not.
We are wired for gratification. But that doesn’t always come in ministry. Some ministry efforts spend decades growing beneath the surface before any fruit is ever seen. You may never see the fruit of your ministry on this side of eternity. That can be discouraging.
Ministry is a marathon so don’t expect any sense of completion a mile into the race. Instead, get out your lawn mower and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with making tall grass short. If you don’t have a yard that needs to be cut, work on your mile time or start building bird houses. Sometimes instant results can do you good. But that’s something that ministry rarely offers so make sure that your lawn mower is ready for spring.
Check your social media usage.
Again, this doesn’t sound too spiritual but it could be that the holiest thing you do this week is to scale back on the time you spend on social media wishing you had the life of some other ministry leader who seems to be doing much better than you. We all know the guy who tweets about how #blessed he is that his latest sermon series won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance. Meanwhile, you spent half of the day last Sunday defending the youth minister in a special called deacons meeting because he had the nerve to park the church van in the Doyle Hargraves Memorial Parking Space instead of the Boyd Crowder Memorial Bus Barn.
Paying too much attention to that #blessed celebrity pastor can lead to resentment and bitterness. So scale back on your social media usage and spend that time talking your youth minister off the ledge. God placed you, not your favorite celebrity pastor, in your position. Instead of coveting, start investing the resources and the position that God has #blessed you with.
Know your End Times theology.
Now that sounds good and spiritual. Except I’m not necessarily talking about your views on the tribulation. Just remember two things. First, when Jesus comes back, there will be no more tears or discouragement. Second, Jesus hasn’t come back yet.
That sounds simple enough but many ministers act as if their next church move will be the new heavens and the new earth. It won’t be. There will be problems there. And at the next church. So instead of hopping around looking for the perfect situation, rely on your perfect Savior. Yes, Jesus will come back to make all things new. But until he does, serve him in the confidence that there is more to your story than the discouragement that surrounds you. While you wait on him, lean on him.
Pastor, hang in there. You are not your latest sermon. You are not defined by the failure of some program. You are a child and a servant of the Most High God.