If you have been in ministry for very long you have dealt with discouragement. The reasons are numerous: someone recently left the church, you were slandered, the sermon didn’t go like you though it would, attendance was down, etc. What do we do when we are smack dab in the middle of discouragement? How do we cope? I have found that reminding myself of these four truths helps in these moments:
1. You are who the gospel says you are. We must remember that we are children of God before we are pastors. We are recipients of amazing grace before we are dispensers of that grace to our people. So, who are we according to the gospel? We are perfectly righteous because of Christ’s righteousness. We are loved. We have worth because of what God says about us, not what the world says about us. Our value is not based on the size of our church; it is based on Christ’s value.
I find it easy to remind my people who they are in Christ but I struggle to listen to and apply gospel truth in my own life. Paul Tripp said, “No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.” What do you tell yourself? Pastor, do you remind yourself who you are in Christ?
2. You are not alone. I tend to think that I am the only pastor who struggles with discouragement but Scripture quickly reminds me that this is not the case. After Elijah had called fire down from heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal (a ministry high no doubt) we see him utter these words the next day: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Did you catch that? Elijah was so discouraged that he asked God to kill him.
One of my ministry heroes, Charles Spurgeon, often struggled with depression. He wrote: “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Often we think those who God used mightily never struggled. We are under the illusion that they had it all together and never faced discouragement. The opposite is the case. It is so helpful to remember that we are not alone as we face these things!
3. You are under attack. Spiritual warfare is real and pastors are on the front line of the battle. Satan is no dummy. Here is his logic: “If I can knock of the shepherd the sheep will scatter.” He employs a number of strategies to accomplish this mission of sidelining pastors. We see pastor’s fall for any number of reasons: addiction to pornography, affairs, financial improprieties, pride, etc. I think one of the slickest ways Satan attacks pastors is to encourage them to make their ministry an idol. Many of us, if we boil it all down, worship our ministry more than we worship Jesus. It has become our idol.
There is only one thing to do when you are under attack… prepare for the battle. Paul wrote: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:11-18). Are you preparing for the battle daily?
4. You are called to faithfulness. Paul knew this and reminded the church in Corinth of this reality: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
Maybe this will lift a burden – God does not hold you accountable for whether or not the church grows. He holds pastors accountable for our labor, our faithfulness to preach the Word and minister to the people. The words we should long to hear from the Lord are these: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23).Be faithful and leave the results up to him!