This was one of the most popular articles on this blog in 2015 based upon the number of people who read it. It obviously found an audience. Because I know how discouraging ministry can be at times I decided to post it again in the hope that some will find encouragement and some helpful advice.
I was a pastor of one church for twenty years. For the past fourteen years I've served as a judicatory minister serving the churches in our region. I know how frustrating it can be for pastors who struggle to lead their churches only to see few results. For those of us in my generation it is especially troublesome because it seems everything we learned earlier in our ministries is no longer applicable today. The world is changing much more rapidly than our churches are willing to change, and it's changing much more rapidly than some of us can keep up with.
However, having said all that, it still bothers me when I talk with pastors and church leaders who have given up. There is something sad about pastors and lay leaders who have lost hope. These are people in positions of leadership in their churches and yet they have nothing to give those churches. When you lose hope, when you can't see anything positive in what you are doing or see how things will get better, you can't lead.
Sometimes this is due to depression or burnout, but there are ways to address those. Regular readers of this blog know that I've been very open about a period of depression I experienced in the mid-80s. I couldn't see very much positive about what was happening in my life or ministry during those dark days, but I also knew that I was depressed. Counseling and medication corrected that condition within a few months and I regained my confidence and hope.
The problem comes when the lack of hope isn't the result of illness but when it occurs because of difficulties in the church. People leave for another church. Controllers in the church create on-going problems. Finances and attendance continues to decline. First-time guests never return. People claim they want growth but refuse to accept the changes necessary for such growth to occur. It become more difficult to find volunteers. The list of problems goes on and on, and it can become overwhelming.
Well...if you have been called to the ministry this is part of what that calling entails. Did you think that the ministry was going to be all sunshine and roses? Did you think your ministry was supposed to be easier than Jesus' ministry? If so, I've got real bad news: it won't be. There will be people who will disappoint you, who will hurt you, who will say negative things about you, and who will resist your leadership. Your church may not grow as fast as the new church in town. Again, the list goes on and on.
We can't control events outside ourselves or how others will behave; we can only control how we respond to those events and individuals. If we allow those negative things to take away our hope then we have nothing to offer our churches. If a pastor spends the majority of his or her time feeling sorry about himself or herself and complaining about how hard ministry is and how this church isn't ever going to do better, then he or she needs to resign immediately and probably leave the ministry. Your church deserves better and probably won't ever improve as long as you are in the role of their leader.
A church will never overcome its challenges and problems with leaders who have lost hope that things will ever improve. One cannot lead without hope, and it takes leadership to turn things around.
How does a leader regain and maintain a sense of hope? Instead of focusing on the negative things begin to re-examine all the positive things that have happened under your ministry. Look at the difference your ministry and church have made in the lives of other people. Take a fresh look at the new ministry opportunities that exist in your community and begin to ask God how he would have you respond. Quick looking at the resources you don't have and determine what resources are available, and then discuss among the leadership how those resources can best be used for ministry. Spend more time with positive people who are excited about what's happening in their lives and ministries. (BTW - If you walk around like Eeyore these people will avoid you like the plague, and you need to stay away from people like that too!) Most importantly, refocus on God's call on your life and upon him. God called you because he has great things for your ministry and the confidence that you can do them with his help. Begin to believe in yourself and your ministry as much as he does and see if your hope doesn't return.