The good news is the great Apostle Paul, mighty church planter, had the same kind of days and months. In truth much of his "fruit" was after he was either in prison or dead. Consider this great insight into how his year of ministry was going.
"I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." — 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ESV
My lists would not include physical lashing, but ooohhh the tongue lashings. I have not been shipwrecked or stoned. I do identify with the sleepless nights and there was that time my board allowed me to go to jail for the church, which is a story for another blog post. (For now, let's just say there is a reason I am known as "chainsaw" at summer camp!) Then after Paul lists all these difficult physical things, he says "there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." That one I get! Daily pressure - YES! Anxiety for the church body - YES! Who is weak? YES, Paul, I am weak. Who is made to fall? YES! YES! YES! So Paul did not have a glamorous ministry either at times. It helps me to remember Paul's list. Maybe you need to re-read it as well!
Here are a few other ways to get through the discouraging seasons.
- Remember your calling. Think about when God first called you to ministry and how blessed, honored and favored you felt. You are called by God to seek and save the lost, disciple others to follow Christ the Lord. That blessing is still there. He still wants you in ministry. In fact if He has placed you in difficult ministry areas, where growth is hard, rewards are few and times are tough, God trusts you with the more difficult task. Not everyone has what it takes to "stick it out" in the long hard walks of real ministry. God believes in you and knows you can. He has equipped you to endure.
- Boast in your weaknesses. Acknowledge your weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 11:30) Be very careful, especially with your complainers, and whiners who take shots at you, to not get defensive about your weaknesses. I am not a strong people person. I am introverted. I am task oriented. I know these things and when someone points them out as weaknesses I've learned to say "I know" and then marvel that God still wants me to help. I am willing to apologize for my weaknesses. (It saves a lot of wasted. defensive debates that only frustrate the Spirit of God.)
- Stop comparing. Often we think the "greener grass" is just across town at another ministry. If God has called you to a ministry, stay until He calls you to another one. Do not leave because it is hard. We must teach our church families how to endure hard times. As leaders we set that example.
- Look to Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 - says "Looking unto Jesus" the author and finisher" of our faith. I love that picture.Think about Jesus writing the pages of your life,- “The Author.” Then see him working on the final chapter. Good books have great endings. Jesus is the writer and finisher of our faith. The English Standard translation says He is the "founder and perfector" of our faith. Take courage that He is writing the works of your ministry. Paul tells the church at Philippi, "He who began the work will complete it." (Philippians 1:6). Hebrews says He will finish it perfectly. Trust God and keep serving, looking for the great ending He is writing for you.
- Find the Joy. Hebrews 12:2 goes on to say, “ Looking unto Jesus who for the Joy set before Him, endured the cross.” We must choose joy. Keep a shoebox of the good notes, cards, letters and emails you get in the course of your ministry. Take pictures of those whose lives have been impacted through your ministry. Look at those pictures, read those cards, rejoice in the things you can count as blessings. Chose joy because joy is strength Nehemiah 8:10. And strength will help you endure. I've recently started taking photos of cards that were meaningful so I can see them on my phone.
- Find a local pastor who can help you chose joy and share your burden. Or find a strong believer outside your church family and use him for accountability with your attitude and efforts. Confess your faults, release your stress and ask for accountability and truth be told to you.
- Press On and Do not quit! Stay the course. The Apostle Paul, writing from a prison in Rome, chained to a guard every day for two years, his future uncertain, writes to the Philippians and instead of whining or bemoaning his circumstances and trials, he writes these words:
And to Timothy Paul writes, But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. — 2 Timothy 4:5
At 6.14 Ministries we never want to see a pastor or church leader, quit or give up for lack of support. We recognize ministry is insanely hard and most likely at least once a week you consider quitting. But remember the Scriptures call us to "endure" for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Christ. I pray all of my ministry friends are enduring their ministry and that joy is abounding even in the hard times. If you need some encouragement reach out to me at 614ministries.org
If you leave a phone number on my email, I will call you.