Dealing with Discouragements in Ministry

It is the common lot of those God has called into gospel ministry to become discouraged on account of the challenges and trials that come from serving as a pastor. I can almost always sense when a brother is weighed down by the pressures, demands, and discouragements that come with serving as a pastor of a congregation, because I have known them throughout my own pastoral service. The apostle Paul intimated the challenges that pastors face in the church when he added to the external opposition he experienced from the unbelieving world the care that he had for the church. He wrote, “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). So what are ministers to do when they feel overwhelmed by the discouragements of ministry? Here are a seven important biblical truths to keep in mind: 

1. Remember your need to be sanctified. Just as marriage helps us recognize our need for sanctification in areas that we might not otherwise have seen, so too does pastoral ministry. When the hardships and trials come, we must remember that we need to be sanctified in areas of our lives that we might not have otherwise seen were the trials and challenges not there. For instance, pastors might not realize sinful anger that remains in their hearts until some injustice takes place in the church and that anger begins to well up within. Pastors may not recognize their need to listen better or communicate better until some issue arises that helps them see their own sinful deficiencies. God may have placed this trial or challenge in your ministry to sanctify you as a pastor.

2. Remember your need to grow in wisdom. Just as we need sanctification, pastors need wisdom. A faithful pastor will want to grow as a wise shepherd of the flock. Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom above everything else because he wanted to pastor God’s people with great skill (1 Kings 3:6-9). I have, many times, sought out older and wiser men for counsel as I face trials and challenges in ministry; and, I hope that, to some degree, I am growing in wisdom as I press through one challenge and head into another. The experience gleaned from both successes and failures often brings with it a greater measure of wisdom. We learn this from the book of Ecclesiastes. There were things that Solomon learned from the experiences of life. Often the trials and challenges of ministry serve as the vehicle by which God grows ministers in wisdom.

3. Remember your insufficiency for ministry. The Apostle Paul repeatedly told the members of the church in Corinth that ministers are insufficient, in and of themselves, for ministry (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5: 12:9). This was necessary because there were certain “super apostles” who cast aspersions on the Apostle Paul were boasting as if they were sufficient. When trials and challenges come, ministers feel their own insufficiency. In the midst of challenges with congregants, ministers remember that they cannot change the hearts of the people to whom God has sent them to shepherd. In many cases, the only course of action in a particular trial is go to the throne of grace and plead with the Lord to bring whatever we are facing to a felicitous end.

4. Remember your calling to ministry. When Timothy began to retreat from ministry, or act in fear, the Apostle Paul charged him to remember his ordination to ministry. In fact, he did it twice. In 1 Timothy 1:6, he wrote, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare;” and in 2 Tim. 1:18 he told Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Remembering that God has set us apart to pastor His people helps fan the flame of our zeal for ministry. This is essential for ministers to remember when the discouragements come in ministry. Knowing that God has called you into ministry enables you to keep going when things get tough.

5. Remember the needs of the particular church in which you serve. It has become cliche for Christians to say things like, “Don’t think that God needs you for ministry. He can replace you with anyone He wants.” While this is undoubtedly true, it is equally true to say, “While God does not need you for ministry, the church to which you have been called does!” The Apostle Paul told the church in Philippi, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil. 1:22-24). This is one of the keys to contentment in ministry in whatever church in which you serve. Pastors must remember, when they faced ministry challenges, that the Lord has called them–and not another–to minister to the people in this church at this time. Recognizing that God has called you to equip the saints for ministry is a great encouragement to pressing through the challenges of ministry. 

6. Remember that you have been called to suffer. There is a solidarity that pastors have with the Lord Jesus, the apostles, and other faithful ministers who have suffered before them. The apostles strengthened the members of the early church in the following way: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We should not be surprised when trials and challenges come because God has promised that we will suffer. In one of his most astonishing statement, the Apostle Paul, told the church in Colosse, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). In 2 Corinthians 1:6-7, Paul wrote, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

7. Remember that the goal of your ministry is to exalt Christ. The ultimate encouragement to help ministers press through the discouragements they experience when they face trials and challenges is that we were created, redeemed and called into ministry in order to bring glory to Christ. The cry of the ministers heart must ever be, “He must increase, I must decrease.” The ministries to which we have been called by God are not for our own glory. So often the discouragements that ministers feel are on account of a wrong view of ministry. A wise pastor once told me, “Too often, we think that we will be happy if we can get people to do what is right rather than simply being happy that we are doing what is right in order to bring glory to God. We do so while we recognize that only Jesus can bring about change in the lives of the members of the church or peace in whatever trial or challenge that we face.” We exist to bring glory to God through exalting the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we remember these truths and seek to work them into the fabric of our ministries, we will be better prepared to press through the challenges, trials, and discouragements of ministry. When we set our hand to the plow of Christian ministry, we will find that the Lord supplies us with the grace necessary for us to press through and overcome the discouragements that accompany gospel ministry. 

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