You’re not enough.
What are you going to do when this doesn’t work out?
Do you see the growing group of people who are falling away from your leadership?
Sadly, these are some of the demonic messages that bounce around inside the head of pastors. Fear abounds in our spiritual work, and the Enemy sows seeds of self-doubt. Pastor, have you been imagining catastrophe? Do you wake up with fear that you’re behind? Are you exhausted from carrying the weight of church expectations?
If this is you, here are a few principles I’ve gathered from other pastors to put fuel in your emotional tank.
Confess your struggle to other pastors in the trenches of ministry.
A cup of coffee with a few honest pastors will instantly reveal the corrective message: “You’re not alone.” Every pastor with an ounce of self-awareness feels like Moses, who often wondered if he had the chops to pull off God’s assignment for him. Moses was regularly reminding God that more qualified humans were available, but the Lord never gave him permission to resign.
Every pastor endures seasons when the fantasy of waving the white flag builds in his mind. Though that bait is enticing, he also knows the immediate gratification of quitting will be followed by the shame of disobedience.
Tim thought he was leading well in his rookie year of pastoring—until the first major dispute emerged. The church was maxed out in its Sunday morning service and he knew it was time to open up a second option.
To Tim’s surprise, the people seemed reluctant to the idea that half their friends would be out of sight on Sunday mornings. He realized that enormous groundwork would have to be laid to lead through this change and devoted six solid months to the side conversations required for buy-in. When the service finally launched the following Easter, the room felt empty in the new worship hour. Tim’s heart felt even more empty.
Tim’s experience is par for the course for those who stick it out in local church ministry. Success usually happens in fits and starts. There are moments when we soar because the vision took off in meteoric fashion. At other times, we feel humiliated, like a basketball player who air-balled a free throw.
One of the best things a pastor can do is to regularly swap “air ball” stories with peers. When this happens, we can normalize ministry flops and find fuel to push past these inevitable moments of defeat. If you’re stuck in a rut or inundated with feelings of failure, set up a breakfast with a few pastors who have learned to take themselves less seriously. It helps!
Read life-giving books.
Years ago, a seasoned pastor was asked, “How do you get out the ditch in ministry?” The question was aimed at seasons of discouragement. I’ve never forgotten his answer: “I read myself out of the rut.”
For this man, the fresh pour from books brought him back to life. Just as Jesus went away for some solitude, we need to push away from the shore, from the constant demands of the church, and open our minds to new ideas.
The more I study the lives of thought leaders, the more I realize how important uninterrupted blocks of head space truly are. As the leader of Microsoft, Bill Gates openly shared his practice of disappearing to a cabin in a cedar forest twice a year for “Think Week.” What did he do in his time off the grid? Read. Boxes of articles and cases of Diet Orange Crush came with him. According to Gates, this practice was the most effective way to lead—not respond—to his work.
Pastor, perhaps it’s time to schedule a solid guest preacher for a weekend. Pack up your books and your favorite soft drinks. Find a cheap cabin and embrace the power of solitude. If Jesus needed time away, so do you. And don’t forget that Paul made the most of his time under house arrest. He sent for his parchments.
Find Trusted Leaders in Which to Confide.
Pastors need strong leaders working alongside them. Strategically savvy ones, yes, but emotionally supportive confidantes, also. While a pastor cannot bear his soul to all of his team, there are likely a few who would count it a privilege to help carry your burden.
Like we all do, I recently grappled with a particular burden. Only my wife knew the battle I was going through and we were praying through it together. In addition, though, the Lord led me to open up with a few members of our staff, allowing them to see my areas of weakness. While it was frightening to think of how they might view me, my fears were relieved when I felt the connection between us grow stronger. They ministered to me, speaking words of life and pointing out many areas of growth in our organization that I was choosing not to see.
Jesus had the 12, but then he had the three. It’s astounding to me that the other nine didn’t throw a fit that they weren’t invited to the Transfiguration. Jesus loved the entire team but allowed a few into the very core of his pain and struggle. I believe this is a model for all of us to follow.
Do you have a few staff members, elders, deacons or other church leaders who have demonstrated support for you? Do you see loyalty and compassion in their eyes? It seems wise to avoid the John Wayne approach to ministry. No leader is an island and we all need to draw from the well of others.
As you think about your leadership in the church, fight off the feelings of inadequacy by taking a proactive posture. Meet with other pastors, retreat to fuel your mind, open up with key leaders. You cannot pour out from an empty cup.