Lifeway Research published a report recently stating, “Over one-half (55%) of pastors are presently discouraged.”
This is a sobering, but not necessarily startling statistic. One of the toughest and persistent parts of ministry is dealing with discouragement. And one of the toughest—and regular-- parts of my ministry with church planters and leaders is helping them work through discouragement.
Billy Graham put it this way, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' and 'Help me.'”
We all get discouraged. So, how can we deal with discouragement? At a recent gathering of church planters in Dallas (The Big “D”) we spent some extended time talking about how to combat the big “D”--discouragement. We came up with a top ten list of ways to deal with discouragement. Here are the top five:
HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH DISCOURAGEMENT?
1. SEE DISCOURAGEMENT AS A CHOICE
God tells Joshua: “Be strong and courageous…be strong and very courageous…be strong and courageous…be strong and courageous.”—Joshua 1:6,7,9 &18 (NIV)
But he adds: “Do not be discouraged”—Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
The Bible tells us not to be discouraged at least ten times. If we are commanded not to do it, we must have the option to not do it.
Charles Stanley says, “Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there's a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, un-forgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan.”
Disappointment happens. But I have to actually choose to let it fester into disappointment.
When his disciples were in a storm, Jesus walked on water to help them. As he reached them he stated, “Take courage, I am here!”—Matthew 14:27 (NLT)
We get to choose, we can take courage or discouragement. Let’s realize that we have a choice in the matter.
“Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”—Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
Solomon encourages us not to put all of our eggs in one basket. Yet too many church planters and pastors put all of their emotional eggs into their church. They take everything that happens in their single ministry so personal, that when anything goes bad, discouragement pounces.
Seasoned minister Leith Anderson once said to a small group I was in, “If I had one piece of advice to give young pastors it would be to get involved in a ministry in addition to their local church. It will help them to stay emotionally balanced.”
When we spend part of our time helping other planters or leading a cluster of pastors, or serving as a chaplain to a local sports team, or just expanding our ministry horizons, it lessens the discouragement temptation.
One great thing about the Excel Leadership Network is we offer many opportunities for leaders to diversify their ministry and one of our goals is for every church planter to get involved in serving within the network in addition to serving in their local ministry context.
3. STOP COMPARING
The Apostle Paul warned, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”--2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)
When we play the comparison game we always lose.
I love this quote from author Garrison Keillor: “Ignorance of other writers' work keeps me from discouragement and I am less well-read than the average bus driver.”--Garrison Keillor
Jesus told Peter not to worry about John’s ministry. Let’s heed that advice and refuse to be sucked into the comparing our church with someone else’s.
4. ADJUST MY EXPECTATIONS
“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?”—James 4:14 (NLT)
The number one reason why church plants fail in America is unrealistic expectations on the part of the church planter. I have seen way too many planters quit when they had a good ministry going because they expected to results like Perry Noble or Steven Furtick or Andy Stanley or Rick Warren
Lloyd Ogilvie was on to something when he quipped: “Discouragement is the illegitimate child of false expectations!”--Lloyd Ogilive
Let’s get back to Biblical expectations: ministry isn’t going to be very much like we expected. There will be amazing lows, twists, turns and detours. We need to expect the unexpected and expect that God will always come through--most often later than we expected too.
5. HANG IN THERE
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”—James 1:4 (NIV)
The drag of discouragement lessens as we grow. Discouragement is a maturity issue.
Check out these revealing Lifeway Research findings:
• 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 pastor’s age
I definitely get discouraged. But not like I did in my first church plant. And not like I did in my second church plant. When we survive bouts of discouragement it makes the next bout a little bit easier to take because we know we will get through it.
James Whitcomb Riley says this about handling discouragement: “The most essential factor is persistence - the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”
Discouragement is a part of life, a part of ministry, but we can learn how to keep it from stopping us.
So there are five ways to deal with discouragement. The next time you get really discouraged, drop me a note (JDPearring@gmail.com) and I’ll let you know the rest of our top ten list. Take courage!