If you've been in ministry for any capacity and any length of time, then you know what it is to be discouraged. You know what it is to feel like you want to quit, like you're wasting your time, like it's not worth it and you're just plain tired of it all. Sometimes, it seems like half the book of psalms was written when David felt like that.
Regardless, after 17 years of student ministry, I can't even begin to count the times I've felt like that. Sometimes it last for hours. Other times it seems like it's an entire season of it's own. Thankfully, this is not one of those times in my life. If it was, this post would probably be a cry to stop the bleeding.
But without digging too deep, you could find just below the surface of my soul some common sources of discouragement for me:
- DIVISION: when people can't support one another in ministry, it drains me.
- DEFECTION: I have a LONG list of former students who at one point went on missions trip with me, served on teams with me, prayed with me, loved on me, encouraged me, took notes on hundreds of sermons I gave, and even served with me as they grew up into adults who have for one reason or another, ditched the faith we once shared. It ruins me every time. Some that go years back in my past still haunt me almost daily.
- GOOD INTENTIONS GONE BAD: when I try and say or do something helpful and it ends up wounding someone instead of helping them. So discouraging to feel like a failure.
- BEARER OF BAD NEWS: when I have to be the one to bring a tough word of correction or rebuke that I know won't be well received, I can easily get discouraged. Especially if they choose to leave as a result.
- LONELINESS: when I feel alone in ministry, like no one is in this with me... I easily get discouraged and feel like I should just bail.
- ... and on and on...
So, what do you do to get out of that rut? How do you rebound from discouragement and back into encouragement when things aren't good? I don't know what will be true for you, but here's 3 things that have helped me... mostly that I've learned the hard way.
- RETURN TO CALLING. I owe this reminder to a time in ministry when I literally did quit. Thankfully, my senior pastor refused to accept my resignation. Doubly thankful that my youth pastor/mentor told me that I needed to return to my calling as I sat in his office spilling my guts. He said it was a "why am I doing this in the first place issue?" When I'm discouraged, the reason I stay in the game is not because I feel like it. I never really feel like it in those moments. Instead I have to consciously ask the question: "Is this what God has called me to be doing?" The answer is the clarity I need to keep going or make a change.
- SEEK AN AUDIENCE OF ONE. When I'm discouraged, I often quote Galatians 1:10 and remind myself that whoever is upset with me is not my real audience anyway. I literally cannot please both God and people. It is impossible.
- SURVEY MY WHOLE PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL STATE OF MIND. If I haven't gotten enough sleep, am not getting a Sabbath, or dealing with tons of messes in tons of places, then I have learned to doubt my own discouragement. I've learned that some feelings, though very real in their emotion, quite simply cannot be trusted.