Let’s be real for a moment: Ministry is hard. It can be soul crushing, emotionally draining, depressing, and filled with anxiety. It has extreme highs, but also some of the darkest lows.
As a pastor or ministry leader, we feel the weight of what is happening in our ministries and churches. We bear the hurt and pain of our people, we feel deeper than most because we have been called to care for God’s sheep. The words people say, the loose tongue of a parent, the critique of a church member, a critical response from a staff member; they cut deep. We begin to question our skill set, our passion, our knowledge, and yes, even our calling. There are moments we feel so inadequate we feel like walking away. Moments after an amazing event or conversation that break us and make us feel worthless. Moments when we question, “why do I even do this anymore?”
Perhaps you are there now. Maybe it is has been that type of day, week, month, or year for you. Brothers and sisters let me encourage you: God has called you to this! You are being used in ways you could not imagine, and He is at work in and through you! Know you are not alone. I, we, have been there. And by His grace and the support of others you will make it through this season.
I have experienced deep hurt in ministry. I have been accused, personally and professionally attacked, and had my calling challenged. But as hard as those moments have been I have come out stronger, more affirmed, and more confirmed in my calling. The fire doesn’t stop you, it refines you. The pain you walk through, the burdens you bear, make you a better pastor and shepherd of your people. Know that the pain and hurt isn’t the defining moment of who you are, but a moment to better refine you to be who God has destined you to be. So as someone who has been in these moments and continues to walk through them, I want to offer you a few thoughts on self-care.
1. Make sure you are spending time with Jesus outside of “work time.” Don’t let prep for your Sunday or midweek service be your time with Jesus. Don’t just pray at church venues. Spend constant daily time with Jesus, and just like we tell our students, even if it is hard. Throughout the Psalms we see David struggle in his relationship with God but it doesn’t stop him from going to God. Be raw and real. Be honest with God about where you are.
2. Be honest with your spouse. I get it, we try to spare them and not burden them. Certain leadership moments and meetings have to stay there. But you need to be honest about where you are at and what you are feeling. If it has been a hard day, don’t mask it and don’t try to hide it. Be honest. This isn’t a free pass to be a complete tool to your spouse, but being honest and processing your feelings and responses is healthy and needed for your soul. Bring them in. Share what is happening so you have the one person God designed for you walking with you.
3. Go to a trusted mentor or leader outside the church and ask for their insight, feedback, and encouragement. I would highly encourage that you go to someone outside the church who is removed from whatever is happening. Often we will feel depleted and used up because of a certain moment, comment, person, or leader who is in our congregation. Having a removed third party will offer creative and critical insight into helping you move through it, grow, and respond. Find someone who has served in ministry longer than you and who understands the demands you are faced with.
4. Find someone to talk to. What I mean by this is that in many cases it is healthy to speak to a counselor about what is happening because of how it is affecting you. There are so many preconceived notions about counselors and counseling, but let me dispel them for you. I actually believe that it is healthy for all ministers (and their families) to periodically see a counselor to process what is happening in their lives. This isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat, but of strength and victory. Often a knowledgeable source and listening ear can offer effective, meaningful, and corrective insight into how to grow, adapt, and become stronger in who God made you to be.
5. Be honest with your superiors. I know as I type this that many will chuckle and say “yeah right!” I totally get it, I really do. I have been burned my superiors more than once. I have been hung out to dry. But here is the thing: that isn’t always the case. I am still trying to move past my timidity in bringing leadership in, but what I can tell you is that in my current context my superiors are for me! It is such a welcomed change, but if I had not brought them in I would still be on an island. Being honest with those over you before things blow up allows you to build trust and rapport, and to have people who have your back.
6. Step back and self-assess. Often times when we are hurt it may be due to our own pride and insecurities, but we don’t always see it. It is easy when many sing our praises, but if one negative comment crushes you and makes you question what you are doing, consider stepping back. Take some time to assess what you value: is it the praise and affirmation, or seeing the kingdom of God advanced? Either way there is still hurt and difficult moments, but the result is much different depending on where our heart is. So take a couple of days to remove distractions and spend time with God. Have others speak into your life. Bring in trusted mentors and confidantes. And use this as a time to heal and refresh.
7. Make sure your priorities are in order. I think what happens to the best of us is we make our ministry the focus of who we are and what we do. We are all about it because God has called us to it. But we cannot forget our first calling is to be a child of God. If we forget that our first calling is to love God, and instead believe the lie that serving our ministry is the same thing, then perhaps we need to step back from ministry. The same can be said of your family life. If you find you are sacrificing time with family, your spouse, your kids to be at your ministry, I would argue it is time for you to reassess your priorities. We are called first as children of God, second as husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers, and third as ministry leaders. We are to make sure our relationship is right with God, right with the family that is to mirror our relationship with Jesus, and then right with our ministry we serve in.
The reality is this: ministry is hard. But the reward is this: people will know Jesus and experience eternity with Him. The calling you carry is a heavy one my friends, but know you don’t do it alone. You have many who have gone before, many surrounding you now, and a Father who cares more than you can know. He will sustain and use you through the darkest of moments.
You have been called for a purpose, you are a kingdom worker, you are a chosen child of God, and you are chosen for such a time as this. Know that I am praying for you and am always willing to talk.