Discouragement is simply part of ministry. I don’t know a pastor or church leader who doesn’t occasionally struggle with discouragement.
“Discouragement is an occupational hazard of the Christian ministry,” said John Stott. “It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them,” observed Spurgeon. If you’re in Christian ministry, prepare to be discouraged at least some of the time.
Why is ministry discouraging? Three reasons.
The Nature of the Work
Nobody in ministry can ever exclaim, “Nailed it!” It’s simply beyond our capabilities. Take preaching as an example. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, no slouch as a preacher, said, “I would not cross the street to hear myself preach.” Most of us can relate. Augustine said, “My preaching almost always displeases me. For I am eager after something better.”
And then there’s the weightiness of our work, and the fact that so much of it is beyond our control. “Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” Spurgeon asked. “Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment.”
We’re also on call, and our work is never done.
Because of the very nature of the work, it’s easy to get discouraged.
The Attack of Others
But then there are the attacks of others. Sheep bite. According to a Lifeway survey, 80% of pastors expect conflict in their church. 21% say their church has unrealistic expectations of them. Conflict in the church — something 64% of pastors experienced in their last church — is the second most common reason for pastors to leave a church.
“This is a brutal job,” says Scott McConnell of Lifeway. “The problem isn’t that pastors are quitting—the problem is that pastors have a challenging work environment.”
Or, as Eric Geiger said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Go sell ice cream.”
Insecurities and Idols
Finally, ministry is hard because of our own insecurities and idols. We often base our identity on our role. We measure success by how well ministry is doing. We take things personally, and can succumb to the pressure to make ourselves great rather than to make God great. We can also sometimes believe that everyone else in ministry is doing better than we are based on what we read online.
Simply put: discouragement is an occupational hazard for those in ministry.
I’d love to hear any other reasons that you think ministry is discouraging. On Thursday I’ll list some ways to handle discouragement as a pastor or church leader.