Discouragement comes with the territory for ministry leaders. Unmet goals, putting out fires, staff issues, displeasing people, and general tiredness all contribute to discouragement. When it weighs us down, how can we dig out?
The life of the prophet Elijah gives us hope.
I Kings 18-19 tells the story of his amazing confrontation with the prophets of Baal. The people of Israel had gathered on Mount Carmel along with 450 prophets of Asherah. They set up a sacrifice and the 450 pagan prophets summoned their gods to provide rain. Nothing happened. Then Elijah summoned the one, true God who showed His power by not only consuming the sacrifice but also ending the drought.
Have you been to a pity party lately? We enjoy them so much that we are tempted to plan them on a regular basis. The only problem is, we are usually the only guests and we feel worse for attending the party.
David attended a pity party from time to time. One occasion was recorded in Psalm 38. “My heart pants, my strength fails me; As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, And my relatives stand afar off. Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, And plan deception all the day long.” (Vs. 10-12 NKJV)
Yesterday I spent time thinking about the many issues faced by pastors. There is always something! A disgruntled family leaves for another church. Somebody is mad. There is a need for workers in the children’s ministry. A staff member makes a misstep. A toilet is hung up in the men’s restroom.
“We being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:5)
(Note: Those who read my blog regularly know that a frequent concern of ours is the disrespect church members show toward pastors. But sadly, the opposite is also true, and needs to be addressed.)
Good news from Job, are you kidding? Is there really good news in the book of Job? Job and the book that bears his name seem to be synonymous with trials and hardship. Even secular people equate the word Job with trials. So, what is the good news from Job? Consider these encouraging concepts.
1. Even Godly people struggle. The Lord’s assessment of Job was that he was “a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8) Health issues, people problems, conflict, failure and other matters are not a sign of ungodliness on your part.
“You have mellowed since you came to be our pastor,” the senior adult lady said to me. I politely asked her for an explanation. This was a sweet encouraging lady. I knew she would not make such a statement without a basis. Since she perceived that I had mellowed I guess she felt safe in making such a statement. LOL!
She went on to explain. “Brother Tim, when you first came to be our pastor you were abrasive and controversial in many things you said from the pulpit.” She explained that I had grown and mellowed a lot over the years. At the time I thanked her for her comments and filed them away in file thirteen of my brain.
At the time I thought little of this conversation. I dismissed the comments since this lady was a sweet person, supporter and encouraging person. She innocently shared the truth as she saw it in her heart.
This year I am approaching 35 years in ministry. I’ve served as a singles pastor, discipleship pastor, teaching pastor, church planter, and as a lead pastor where I currently serve. I’ve served in the Deep South (the land of grits), the Southwest (the land of Mexican buffets), the Far West (the land of fish tacos), the Mid-West (the land of Chicago hot-dawgs), and now in Canada (the land of poutine; I wondered what that was too. Google it). Three kids, one grandchild, and four books later, each experience has made me a more rounded leader. Yet, as I look back, I think I’d have done a few things differently. Here’s a list of my do-overs.
Do you know how to let go? Let me pull a page from my story to help you think through this question. Over the years my wife has left a trail of young couple’s Sunday school classes and ministries. In each church we served Judy started or expanded such a ministry. However, she has always done something that caused me to cringe, at least until I saw the wisdom of her actions. She builds a healthy class, trains leaders and turns the ministry over to the class members. In short, she knows how to let go.
Henry Ford once told a leadership team, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Obviously that opinion did not last. Ford Motor Company, at some point, had to change. We now see cars of every color imaginable.
1. I should have found a mentor early in my ministry and made good use of him.
After majoring in history in college, I began pastoring - not exactly great preparation for this work. My efforts were like trying to invent the wheel. I started from scratch in every sense of the word. What I wish I had known - and had the gumption to act on - is that behind the door of almost every Baptist church (and a lot of others) was a veteran preacher who would have been glad to spend time with this kid pastor and help him. All I had to do was ask. And I didn’t.
This article was birthed while cutting and clearing trees on my property. It is amazing how God shares insight and inspiration when we least expect it. When we put our minds in neutral God speaks to our subconscious minds to give us clear thinking and (usually) some of our best work. The best work phrase is not my assessment of this article. LOL!
Several years ago I got a tweet that a large church in the southeast was starting another campus in the county where I started a church more than 20 years ago. The new church started out with more than 1,000 attendees on day one. The church I started finally reached 500 after 14 years. I must confess that unpleasant emotions crept into my heart when I read this tweet. The curse of comparison had reared its ugly head. When we pastors compare our work against others, what are we doing to ourselves?
A few years ago I was running in Philadelphia. It is one of my favorite cities in which to run. I love the Fairmount Park System because I can run for miles in new territory.
On this particular day, I set out to explore a several-mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run, I entered the park in front of a young college-aged girl running at the same pace with me. (I assumed her identity based on the college sweatshirt she was wearing—and the proximity to a local college.)
Silence is an awkward visitor! This past week my wife was away visiting friends and family. The silence created by her absence created an empty spot in my spirit while she was gone. I talked to our dog Lucy more than ever. She seemed to understand. At times like this I can sense the loneliness widows/widowers face. Silence is a companion to loneliness.
How would you define the thought behind this statement? "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life." I Kings 19:10 (NKJV) Obviously the title of this article reveals my take away on this statement by Elijah. Do pastors struggle with self-pity?
Bottom line: Every organization—whether a church, business or nonprofit—needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy.
But here’s the thing about change. If you’ve ever been in leadership you know this. Change is hard. Very hard.
And it’s especially hard for some people. In fact, in my experience, the most common reaction to change—at least initially—is rejection or rebellion.
Look out! This phrase could be used in many different contexts. It could be used by a logger to warn of a falling tree. It could be used around a bad dog to warn of a dog that is preparing to bite someone. It could be used to warn of an oncoming car. The phrase could also be used with believers to warn of sin issues.
This past week I read in Genesis 25 of the death of Abraham. I have read this passage many times. However, this time I was keenly reminded that great men, like Abraham, die. Great men, just like all other people, die. Presidents die! Movie stars die! Sports heroes die!
Editor’s Note: This article and the last two articles focus on limits. All of us must identify our limits, learn to say no, and identify the important values we treasure. These lessons will sustain and enrich an effective ministry life. May God bless you in this endeavor.
Starting each day well is certainly important. We must prioritize our goals, prepare our soul, and schedule our time wisely. When we discipline ourselves to begin each day with intention and thoughtfulness, we do ourselves and others good. I suggested 7 questions to ask yourself each morning in an earlier post. http://charlesstone.com/7-questions-leaders-ask-every-morning/ But what about preparing to end your day? How can we end it well? Consider these 7 questions to ask yourself as you end your workday or before you go to bed.