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Pastors are Hurting

In 2 Cor. 11:28-30, Paul said, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” Tom Rainer, President of Lifeway, recently shared a survey given to pastors about two primary sources of personal struggle in the ministry. It proves that the challenges of the pastorate today are real and need to be admitted so that they might be addressed and resolved.  “Not all the news about pastors is discouraging. Pastors feel privileged to be called to their places of ministry. They have a deep love for those they shepherd. Most of them could not conceive of doing anything else. But please hear me: Many pastors are hurting.

The Discouragement Factor: One of the key symptoms of the pain experienced by pastors is discouragement. Over one-half (55%) of pastors are presently discouraged. I suspect that if we surveyed pastors over just a few months, we would find that almost all of them experience deep discouragement.  Some interesting facts we discovered in our study:

  • There was no pattern of discouragement related to the geographical location of the church.
  • There was no pattern of discouragement related to the size of the church.
  • There was no pattern of discouragement related to the educational level of the pastor.
  • There was a significant pattern of discouragement related to the age of the pastor. The younger the pastor, the more likely he was to be discouraged.

The Loneliness Factor: Most pastors experience intense loneliness at times. When we conducted our survey, over one-half again (coincidentally the same number, 55%, as noted above) said they were lonely. Again remember that this survey was for a specific point in time. Which pastors experience the greatest amount of loneliness? Our study noted some discernible patterns:

  • There was no pattern of loneliness related to the geographical location of the church.
  • Younger pastors were more likely to be lonely than older pastors.
  • The larger the church, the greater the likelihood that the pastor was experiencing loneliness.
  • The greater the education level of the pastor, the more likely he is to be lonely.

Why the Pervasive Discouragement and Loneliness?” Rainer in an earlier blog offered the following as reasons pastors are struggling today and some are experiencing depression: spiritual warfare, unrealistic expectations, greater platforms for critics, failure to take time away from the church or place of ministry, workaholism, marriage and family problems, neglecting his family as he cares for the larger church family, financial strains, the problem of comparison.  Rainer went on to say, “This one thing I do know. Pastors need our prayers more than ever. They need our support and encouragement. I am committed to pray for my pastor every day, even if it’s only for a minute or so. Will you do the same? Our pastors pour out their lives for us daily. What can you do to help our pastors?”

Allow me to recommend to you, Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro.

How to Not Lose Heart

Heart Problems

“Yep, you can just tell their heart isn’t in it anymore!” Have you ever heard that before? It has been said about athletes, employees, hobbyists, and even spiritual leaders. What happens when a leader loses heart? They lose!

Rom 10:2 says, “I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” That verse has been used quite often with a negative connotation towards those perceived as having too much passion. The notion is that once a person understands more about the things of God then their passion will level off.

But where is that in the scripture? Why can we not increase with knowledge and understanding while our passion, zeal, and burden increases also? Our communities will be reached with the Gospel by those who are passionately in love with Jesus and who love the same people He passionately loves and died for.

What happens when you lose your spiritual passion and zeal? It drains you and eventually can cause you to walk away from God’s calling on your life. God’s call does not change but the power to accomplish that calling can and does. While there are many different ministry killers we could list, the biggest ministry killer is a heart problem.

That is why in Proverbs 4:23 we are told to, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”

Here is what might happen when you lose heart:

  • First, you may give up and quit! You begin saying things like “What’s the use?” “What difference is it making anyway?”
  • Second, you notice you are just going through the motions faking the passion you once had! The thinking here is, “I can’t let you know my passion is gone!” “I’ll fake it till it comes back!”
  • Third, you begin giving all the reasons (excuses) you calmed down. The reality is that you are not sure if you are trying to convince others or yourself. The argument here is, “Hey, I’m as faithful and committed as anybody!”
  • Fourth, you passionately begin to pursue God’s heart again so that He will return to you that passion and zeal. You invite Him into every area of your life to do a work on your heart again and again and again.

In A Work of Heart Reggie McNeal says, “All the leadership insight and expertise on the planet cannot overcome a case of spiritual heart disease or ‘heart failure’.” He also states, “…the first order of responsibility for spiritual leaders: to reflect the heart of God to the people around them.” Are you reflecting the passionate heart of God?

Here is some reality:

  • Focus on the Family reports that 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Many enter with a zeal and passion that wanes as time marches on. The calling was real and the excitement was apparent but the challenges and difficulties creates many casualties along the way.
  • Southern Baptist Convention says that out of every 10 who surrender to preach only 1 will retire in vocational ministry.
  • Focus on the Family reports that 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression.

The reality is that it is easy to lose heart and lose the passion and zeal you began the journey with. What about those who stay in the ministry? Charles Stone in 5 Ministry Killers says, “Clearly, frustration in ministry is a big deal. Nagging issues drain precious energy from mission-critical tasks.” How’s your heart? On a scale of 1-10 how would you score your passion and zeal for God?

Paul challenges us in II Cor 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” There is a way to see our passion and zeal increase!  What are you willing to do to get your passion and zeal back?  Here are some ideas to begin the journey back to when you had the passion and zeal to carry our God’s calling on your life:

  • First – Admit There is a Problem! One thing about King David; whenever he failed God, he fell towards Him! He didn’t run from Him but ran towards Him confessing his failures. (Psa 51)
  • Second – Desire to Know Him More! It is all about relationship and He desires to do a work in your heart even more than you want Him to. It always has and always will be a matter of the heart. (Matt 22:37-39)
  • Third – Be Still and Know that He is God! Make sure that you have found margin in your life to focus on Him and spend time with Him. (Psa 27:4; Psa 63)
  • Fourth – Passionately Pursue Him! It is not about the schedule, the programs, the plans, nor the image you portray. It is all about Him and passionately loving Him. (Psa 42)
  • Fifth – Share your Struggles with a Friend and Be Transparent! God has always provided us companionship. We do not have to walk this journey alone but can lean on one another and help one another. (Ecc 4:9-13)

Reggie McNeal describes it this way, “All are living lives never before attempted. Each individual’s journey requires a discovery of insights as old as eternity and as fresh as the morning. Spiritual leaders aid people in this exploration.”

Riding the Roller Coaster

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I remember it all too well.  It was the last time I rode a roller coaster.  The location was Six Flags Over Texas and the ride was the Titan.  As we ascended upward I remember thinking, “What are you doing on here?”  There were terrifying screams and cries of others around me but when the ride was over they said, “Let’s do that again!”  Not me.  I was done, finished, retired, and I tried to recover from a throbbing headache the rest of the day.  I wonder, is that how you are feeling about ministry or church?

Life is full of ups and downs, struggles and victories, mountain tops and valleys, celebrations and disappointments.  It is a part of life and should be expected.  Ministry is kind of like parenting. It is a joy to be a parent; most of the time!  This Christian journey of faith we are on is not about perfection but progress and continuing no matter what challenges may come our way.  I read recently that there are two kinds of wilderness experiences: The kind you do not choose and the kind that is self-imposed!

Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) church planter training teaches that there are “seasons” and “cycles” in our journey.  That truth is applicable to anyone seeking to serve the Lord.  Sometimes it is hot and sunny, sometimes rainy and cold.  Serving and following Christ begins with the same three stages that are linear but they can lead to seasons or cycles of a “high road” or a “low road.”  Trials and tribulations will come and then the roller coaster ride of reoccurring loops of celebration or discouragement begins.

First, ministry normally begins with a vision of what God wants you to accomplish.  Excitement burns within you to fulfill your calling and make a difference for Christ.  DCPI training says, “This is a time of great excitement and some trepidation, as God’s vision for your ministry begins to take shape in your heart and mind.  The magnitude of the eternal impact you could make, captures your heart and energizes your mind.  The joy of knowing God has planted this vision in your heart, and the closeness you feel with Him.”

Step two is planning and implementation.  You want to make sure your vision is not just a pipe dream.  You begin to put the vision God has placed on your heart down on paper.  DCPI says, “Prayerful planning enlightens your vision and gives detail to what the vision will become.  This is the time when you really begin to work, when you pray and plan and begin the important steps necessary to move toward God’s design for your ministry.  Without this stage, there will be no realization of God’s vision.”

These are the linear “stages” that begins both cycles.  There is vision, planning and implementation, and thirdly, trials!  Yes, there it is, trials!  This is where the roller coaster of life can really get rolling.  There are basically three kinds of people; those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems.  The trials you will experience are inevitable.  Your faith will be tested.  The enemy will attack.  Our DCPI materials make it clear that potential trials often occur in some predictable areas.

  • Spiritual Warfare – The goal of every ministry is to retake ground occupied by the enemy. Establishing a dynamic church is nothing less than an assault on the gates of hell. Jesus Himself promised victory in such an ambitious offensive campaign, but it can be full of tribulation and danger.  If you still have your doubts take a look at Eph. 6:11-18.
  • Family Pressures – Ministry can place strain on a marriage. Normal family conflict and difficulty is only made more intense by deciding to follow Christ and be faithful in every area of your home life.  This is why we teach DCPI’s Balance Principle: “The church planter’s walk with God, family life, and ministry must be in biblical balance.”  Take a look at Eph. 5:22-6:4.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – It starts with vision but that vision, its shape and magnitude, needs to be determined by God, not by an unhealthy comparison with some other pastor or church leader. Setting the bar of “success” based on how God has blessed someone else is both dangerous and potentially discouraging.  (Jn. 21:20-23)
  • Leadership and People Challenges – Ministry demands leadership skills.  One pastor said the challenge of pastoring is taking all the different groups in a church and forming them into one unified body.  The other side of leadership is remaining humble and always striving to lead biblically as a servant-leader.  It is not about power or position but godly example.  (I Pet. 5:1-7)
  • Loneliness and Isolation – The worst thing you can do is to try to face the trials and tribulations of the ministry alone.  Ministry Grid says, “Transformation is a communal experience, not an individual exercise.”  Everyone needs a mentor or a coach in their life to help them through the roller coaster experiences that come along!  Take a look at partnership in Phil. 1:3-5.

Established churches and church planters realize that any one of the trials mentioned above can be devastating but knowing that it is a normal stage of ministry can help you get through it!  Check DCPI training out at www.dcpi.org