August 2001 Issue
Discouragement In The Ministry
by Timothy Faber
At times we all want to quit. After
sixteen years as a pastor I have faced discouragement more times
than I care to remember. So why haven't I quit? Because the Lord
has called me to this high and holy task. But I have also learned
a few lessons about discouragement that have kept me going in
those difficult days.
Discouragement affects all of us from time to time. For those
in ministry, discouragement is very real and not uncommon. In
fact, the Bible reveals that even such men as Elijah, Jeremiah,
and David struggled with discouragement.
The causes of discouragement are numerous, but in my life most
of the struggles have been related to one of the following areas.
Neglecting Personal Worship
I'll be the first to admit that
my quiet time isn't always what it should be. Sometimes the days,
even weeks, are so filled with meetings, fellowships, care-giving,
and the preparation for that ever-constant Sunday deadline that
I soon find myself weary of the treadmill. This is when discouragement
can creep in. There is so much energy expended in the work of
ministry that the fire can be extinguished. We must remember that
preparation for "the job" is no substitute for personal
refreshing and refueling. If we fail to spend time with the Lord
on a personal level, rather than merely professional, we can lose
sight of the ... prize of the upward call of God in Christ
When neglecting our quiet time results in discouragement, the
remedy is to return to our first love. God has promised to reveal
Himself to those who seek Him. Whenever we get a fresh glimpse
of God there is renewed sense of purpose and joy. But, maintaining
this relationship requires self-discipline and accountability.
Whether it is a spouse, a colleague, or a trusted friend, having
someone to hold us accountable is invaluable for maintaining a
consistent quiet time.
At times I have gotten discouraged because of unrealistic expectations.
While Jesus is certainly ... able to do exceeding abundantly
beyond all that we ask or think (Eph.3:20) the congregation
is not! The pastor's concentrated focus on a clear vision may
lay the trap of expecting too much of the people. Upon entering
the ministry, many of us have idealized what Kingdom work will
be like. There are dreams and visions of the multitudes coming
to Christ, of complacent saints being re-vitalized for service,
of growth, of blessings, of joy. Few have given any thought to
the struggles or obstacles ahead. Whether it is the goal itself,
or the speed at which it is attained, I have found myself expecting
more than is possible at the time and have become discouraged.
As Solomon wrote, Hope deferred makes the heart sick ...
On the other hand, some churches place unrealistic expectations
upon their ministers. They may expect their pastor to do everything
and do it well. They might compare their pastor to a predecessor
who is remembered as perfect. In far too many instances the members
of a congregation expect the minister to meet his own family's
material needs, but on a fraction of the income common among the
members. The minister who attempts to serve the Lord in a church
with any of these expectations could face a constant battle with
When unrealistic expectations lead to discouragement godly
counsel is in order. Mentors, colleagues, predecessors, the church
patriarch, and others have helped me set realistic expectations.
Very few churches do not desire to move forward. Often they have
been pushed, dragged, and beaten to the point that they are very
careful about how they proceed. They may want to follow the minister's
leadership, but must first be better equipped. Good counsel from
wiser, more experienced saints can go a long way in preventing
Discouragement may descend on us when certain members resist church
growth, or when each spark of vibrancy is smothered by a wet blanket.
Most congregations have at least one member with a negative attitude.
Those who see it as their "ministry" to approve or disapprove
every idea and proposal can dampen not only the pastor's spirit,
but also the entire congregation's.
A popular song from a couple of generations ago said, "Accentuate
the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with nothin'
in between." It is neither realistic nor appropriate for
a us to "eliminate" negative church members but
we can pray for them. I have also learned not to give much
weight to the burdens negative people try to place upon me. We
can choose to focus on and accentuate the positive. Concentrating
on Christ and His will rather than circumstances will help us
to overcome discouragement.
Jealousy will certainly lead to discouragement. Ministers are
not immune from the temptation to covet. The problem is exacerbated
by the boasting of colleagues who seem to have the perfect ministry
setting. When the Holy Spirit is pouring out blessings somewhere
else it is easier for the minister to complain about what's not
happening in his own church than to rejoice with his brother.
As with any sin, when we fall into jealousy we must repent.
Since jealousy is rooted in love for self, one solution for jealousy
is developing genuine love for, and communion with, others. I
Corinthians 13 speaks of love as not being jealous. As love for
fellow ministers grows it is easier to rejoice when they rejoice.
Closely related to this source of discouragement is unconfessed
sin. Jealousy is indeed sin and needs to be confessed, but the
same is true of all sin. Because sin disrupts our fellowship with
God, and when we fail to confess it, He removes His hand of blessing.
Without God's hand upon him, the minister is left to his own devices
and strength. Jesus reminded his followers in John 15 that without
Him we can do nothing. When there is unconfessed sin there is
no divine strength, wisdom, joy, or sustenance. Indeed, there
is guilt, shame, fear, and trepidation. No wonder unconfessed
sin leads to discouragement!
The word discourage is made up of the word "courage"
with the prefix "dis", which means absent of, deprived
of, free from, or the opposite of. Thus "discourage"
means the opposite of courage. When one is discouraged it means
he lacks courage. As Christians and pastors, our courage comes
from the Lord, as does the joy of the Lord, which is our strength.
When David was confessing his sin with Bathsheba in Psalm 51 he
prayed restore to me the joy of Thy salvation. ... David
had lost the joy of the Lord's salvation because of his sin. Without
the Lord's joy David became weak, disheartened and discouraged.
When unconfessed sin is behind discouragement, the obvious
cure is confession. Remember: If we confess our sins He is
faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us
from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Nothing is more refreshing
than a good cleansing. Repentance opens the faucet of grace and
washes away the filth of sin. When we are cleansed we have boldness
and confidence before God.
Obviously, Satan's attacks can lead to discouragement. He has
determined to steal, kill, and destroy all that he can. He attempts
to derail God's ministers through doubt, confusion, and misunderstandings.
Even in the midst of exciting times in my life and ministry, I
have found myself focusing on the next valley; about when it will
come, how deep it will be, and how long it will last. Job, though
a truly righteous man, faced the brunt of Satan's attempts to
discourage and dishearten. The sixth chapter of Ephesians instructs
about the full armor of God because of the reality of spiritual
When Satan's schemes and ploys lead to discouragement it helps
to remember II Corinthians 10:5, We are destroying speculations
and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,
and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Jesus has conquered Satan totally and eternally. He has also shared
that victory with us. In James we are reminded to resist the
devil and he will flee from you.
At some point, every pastor will face discouragement. Sometimes
these battles are a direct result of our own behavior and lifestyle.
At other times we may not be responsible for the battle at all.
At no time are we doomed to dwell in the darkness of discouragement.
In every case, God has a solution. There is hope, there
is healing, there is a way to find victory over
Timothy Faber is pastor of the Santa Fe
Trail Baptist Church in Boonville, Mo.
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