If you’re a pastor, a missionary, or serve in a church, you can’t avoid discouragement, disappointment, and hurt from ministry. The Bible even uses the not-so-complimentary metaphor “sheep” to describe those we serve. And sheep get dirty and smelly and often kick and bite. Sometimes those sheep in the church do the same to their shepherds. So when you get kicked, forgotten, disrespected, ignored, mistreated, gossiped about, or misunderstood, how do you move forward?
The story recorded in 1 Samuel 30 gives great insight. David had just begun his career to fight the bad guys. Early on he faced a huge defeat. While he and his army were in battle far from home, the bad guys, the Amalekites, attacked the city where his family and the families of his army lived. They burned the city and kidnapped their wives and children. When David’s men discovered this, they considered removing him from his position, not by a vote of a board or a congregation, but with big rocks to the head by stoning.
The Scriptures then record one of the most beautiful verses every written. The old King James Version captures it well.
David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. (1 Sam. 30.6)
It worked because his guys didn’t stone him but marshaled their energy and once again pursued the bad guys under his leadership.
As I’ve faced discouragement in ministry, these simple choices have helped me encourage myself in the Lord.
- Acknowledge your pain and emotion to the Lord but don’t wallow in it. Neuroscientists have discovered that when we name our emotions, it turns down the volume in our brain’s emotional centers.
- Journal your thoughts. Writing them down helps me stop the tendency to incessantly mull over the hurtful situation. Writing therapy been scientifically proven to help us process pain.
- Read God’s Word, especially those verses that speak of hope and victory. Every time you read the Bible, you are actually re-configuring the circuits in your brain and reinforcing Biblical values and truth.
- Do something pro-active. Take action to move forward. In David’s case he took specific action to resolve the problem. He rallied his troops to chase down the Amalekites.
- Stop condemning yourself and remind yourself that you are a child of God, loved by Him with great intrinsic value regardless of whether your church is growing or whether people treat you with respect.
- Pray for those who have hurt you. I’m amazed how God defuses looming bitterness in my heart when I pray for the sheep that bite me.
How have you dealt with your ministry pain?
Although I’ve been a pastor 35 years, only in the last few years have I discovered the value of studying/working outside my church and home office. I’ll either go to McDonalds (cheap food) or when I lived in Chicago, Panera (good atmosphere and the place I preferred). Both provide free Wi-Fi. While I don’t advocate spending all your time working outside the office, I’ve found that doing so once a week benefits me and the ministry in these ways.
5 Benefits of Working Outside the Office
- Productivity: Less interruptions from others.
- Creativity: A different environment spurs it.
- Focus: Less distractions help me concentrate better (like being tempted to clean up my office or play with something on my desk).
- Energy: A different ambiance/atmosphere gives me more.
- Stress management: I feel less of it in a neutral environment.
When I do work outside the office, I use an app I play into my sound suppressing headphones. It’s called Ambiance which offers zillions of nature sounds to listen to. I use Audio-technics active noise-cancelling headphones. They’er cheaper than Bose and about as good.
If you can, try working outside your office a day or so a month and see if it benefits you as it does me.
What other advantages of studying outside the office have you discovered?
Some time back I listened to the audio book The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard. He’s authored two New York Times Bestsellers, speaks to thousands, and offers a plethora of training materials. He became a multi-millionaire before he turned 30. His inspiring book (even for pastors) challengers its readers to become experts in their field and become millionaires in the process. Unlike other self-promoting gurus, Burchard comes across with a servant’s heart. I don’t believe he’s in it for the money. I thoroughly enjoyed his book yet it raised this question in my mind. Should pastors aspire for material wealth?
One of Burchard’s theses is, the more money you make, the more you can help people, which raises these questions.
- Is it true that the more money a pastor makes, the more he or she could help people?
- Should there be a limit on how much a pastor makes?
- Would it be wrong for a pastor to become a millionaire?
- Is the phrase “millionaire pastor” an oxymoron, an apparent contradiction in terms?
Contrasting answers to these questions abound.
Rick Warren made millions from the sale of The Purpose Driven Life yet gave away 90% of the profits, lives in a modest home, and drives a used suv. On the other hand, a few years ago I watched a TV preacher deliver a sermon justifying his ownership of a Bentley, a $200,000 car.
Lifechurch.tv, pastored by Craig Groeschel, gives away all their stuff for free on their website. On the other hand, when I wrote my first book Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy, I asked a mega-church pastor for permission to use a quote from one of his books. He charged me to use only five words.
I don’t offer clear answers to the above questions. However, the Bible seems to provide some guidelines with these ideas.
- Scripture clearly endorses paying pastors when it uses phrases such as don’t muzzle the ox, a laborer is worthy of his hire, and its use of the phrase ‘double-honor’ which implies providing pastors with a salary.
- Pastors are not exempt from these biblical teachings: spend frugally, save wisely, and give generously.
- The Bible never condemns money per se nor does it condemn the rich. It only cautions us about money’s potential harmful influence.
So when Burchard contends that mastering your message is a ticket to wealth (in our case the message is biblical truth) should pastors exempt themselves?
What do you think?
Hebrews 11, one of the greatest chapters in all the Bible, lists several faith heroes from the past and includes details about their lives that evidence great faith. We often refer to this chapter as the ‘faith’ chapter. It offers leaders profound insight about faith that we must believe and embody to effectively lead. I suggest these 6 faith qualities every leader should embody.
6 Faith Qualities Every Leader should Embody.
- Faith pleases God.
- The write of Hebrews begins the chapter by reminding us that God commended the ancients for their faith (v 2). He emphasizes that idea with, Without faith it is impossible to please God (v 6). If we want our leadership to please God, we must exercise true faith and trust in Him.
- Faith does not eliminate uncertainty or discomfort.
- Verse 7 recounts God’s command to Noah to build an ark. Up to this point Noah had probably never seen rain. Yet, he exercised faith when he built a giant boat on dry land. Verse 8 tells us that God told Abraham to go to a place he had never visited before nor even seen. Yet, he obeyed in faith. Both of these biblical characters faced great uncertainty, yet showed great faith.
- In fact, when we exercise faith (take a step into uncertainty) we actually may feel a bit fearful or anxious because our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we face uncertainty the fear centers of our brains cause specific hormones to enter our blood stream and certain neurotransmitters to increase in our brain which creates anxiety and even fear. So, a step of faith as a leader may initially cause us emotional discomfort. It’s normal. It’s a biological process we can’t avoid. Feeling such emotions doesn’t necessarily reflect lack of faith.
- Faith takes the long view.
- When God told Abraham to go to a new land he, was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (v 10). The secret of Abraham’s patience was his hope in the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God. His ultimate Promised Land was heaven, just as ours is.
- Even in verse 13 the writer of Hebrews tells us that these faith heroes, were still living by faith when they died and that, They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance (v 13). Leadership requires that we take the long view of ministry, not rating our ministry success by the inevitable short-term setbacks.
- Faith confronts the impossible.
- In verse 11 we read about God’s promise to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son, although he was 99 and she was 90. Such a pregnancy at their age seemed humanly impossible. How did Abraham reconcile that? I love what Kent Hughes says.
“He weighed medical probabilities of them having a child at such an old age (humanly impossible) with the divine impossibility of God being able to break his word and decided that since God is God, this would not be impossible.”
He goes on to make this insightful point. “We are not to indulge in fideism—faith without reason—or rationalism—reason without faith. We are to rationally assess all of life. We are to live reasonably. When we are aware that God’s Word says thus-and-so, we are to rationally assess it, [believe God at his Word, and obey] my notation.”
Sometimes ministry challenges seem impossible to hurdle. Faith gives us the courage, however, to confront those impossible challenges.
- Faith requires sacrifice.
- In verses 17-19 God asks Abraham to do the incredible, to sacrifice his promised son. Abraham had never seen a resurrection but reasoned that God must be able to raise him from the dead. Unknown to Abraham, God had other plans all along (He had prepared another sacrifice). But his faith prompted him to act sacrificially. Healthy leaders recognize that leadership often requires great sacrifice.
- Faith enables perseverance.
- In verses 32-35 Hebrews lists the incredible successes of several biblical heroes who exercised faith. By human standards the heroes in this list were true winners.
- Fortunately the writer doesn’t end this chapter there. He pivots to a new list, a list of those who also exercised great faith but experienced horrible difficulties. Yet, These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v 39).
- Sometimes we lead at our best yet see little or no progress, experience great heartache, and feel like giving up. During those times, perhaps the supreme mark of genuine faith is our courage in the face of such difficulties.
Every leader must lead with great faith. Those who have gone before us model what it means to lead with such faith.
What have you learned about faith and leadership?
 Hughes, R. K. (1993). Hebrews: an anchor for the soul (Vol. 2, p. 100). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
I’m a pastor. Pastors are supposed to go to church. So I go to church, several times each week. I’ve done that for decades. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed church by choice. But one weekend I added to that handful of misses. I skipped church. Was skipping church that day helpful or hurtful? Read on and you decide.
My daughter had come to visit us over the Labor Day weekend and I scheduled one of our other pastors to preach at the weekend services. We took a long weekend at a lake house about 50 miles from our home.
The last time we took a long weekend we all went to church, a very boring one. This time however, I simply decided I wouldn’t go. To be frank, I felt a tinge of guilt because my wife will tell you I’m always the one pushing us to go to church while on vacation.
But for some odd reason, I didn’t push us this time.
So what did I do that Sunday morning? I sat in a swing and read my bible. I cut some dead limbs off a tree. I chatted with a neighbor. I exercised on my treadmill. I practiced the art of ‘slowing.’ And I really liked it.
Although I’m deeply committed to the local church and won’t make skipping a habit, I leaned a few valuable lessons.
- Skipping church reminded me that pastors’ schedules keep us from normal weekends that most families experience. Sundays (and Saturdays if you hold services) are our biggest work days. But, it’s not all about me and I will gladly stay faithful to God’s calling.
- Those not in pastoral leadership roles will never understand this sacrificial part of our profession because when they want to skip church, they easily do with no repercussions. And when they do, most don’t even think twice about skipping.
- An occasional ‘break from the Sunday routine’ can refresh a soul and help avoid pastoral burnout.
- I now truly understand how hard it would be for someone who has seldom attended church to give up his or her Sunday mornings and start attending. I really enjoyed having that Sunday free.
- Number 4 above reminded me that we pastors must craft compelling, Spirit-led services if we are to entice the unchurched to attend and keep attending. What they experience at church must be worth the price of giving up their relaxing mornings at home, at the lake, or at the ballpark. We may only get one shot.
- Pastors need a sabbath too. Since Sundays aren’t ours, we must prioritize another day for rest. I now take Saturdays off and I was reminded that I must truly rest on that day.
If you’ve ever played hookey from church, I’d love to hear what you learned.