Pastors and Christian leaders today are discouraged to a degree I have never before witnessed. The culture is manic, denominations and churches are blowing apart, politics are polarizing, money is tight, churches are declining, people are anxious, social media is a war zone and old “in house” problems of “entitlement, power and preference” haven’t gone anywhere. Add to that high stress, frozen salaries, shrinking budgets and lack of appreciation and you have a recipe for discouragement. And that was BEFORE the pandemic!
If you are discouraged in your service to the Lord, I get it. You have no idea how well I get it. For many, 2020 was a season of feeling inadequate, dejected, frustrated and downright pessimistic. 2021 doesn’t look much better. Sometimes we just want to become 10 years old again and “take our ball and go home.” Some are doing just that and getting back into the secular job market. Many church leaders who can retire are retiring early. But for the rest of us…
Here are some words to the discouraged:
1) Double down on the mission
Discouraged people are often people off-mission. Refocus your energy toward your church mission statement and get back to doing the stuff you were doing when things were going well. Getting back to the basics of effectiveness is always a good mantra in difficult times.
2) Stop feeling sorry for yourself
Everyone in the Bible had tough times and everyone God has ever used throughout history had tough times. Jesus had tough times for heaven’s sake! Realize you are in good company and cancel the pity party due to lack of interest.
3) Be faithful
Being faithful is easy when things are going great but can be quite burdensome when they are not. “What is the use?” is a lie the devil uses early and often in such seasons. The Bible commends faithfulness above all things. So keep battling in such a way as we hear God say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
4) Remember tough times don’t last forever
They seem like they do but they don’t. God wins. Something has to turn around at some point if you are on God’s side.
5) Learn any lessons you need to learn
Some rough seasons are self-inflicted, others are inevitable but all offer an opportunity for learning, leaning on Jesus and growth. It is often the skills we learn in the valley that enable us to once again soar on the mountain top!
6) Attack the distract
In times of discouragement, sources of distraction are deadly. Silence the negative and divisive voices by choosing not to listen to them and firmly rebuking them. You need voices of hope in tough times, not selfish people with an uncanny and disheartening grasp of the obvious. Misery missionaries go home.
7) Live in victory
Just start living in victory. Just do it. Speak victory, celebrate the victory promised in the Bible and claim the victory God is about to give you! Surround yourself with positive people. Fake victory until you are living it!
8) Lean into your call
Rediscover why you got into ministry in the first place. Rekindle that initial moment when God called you by name! And remember if God called you, you can be released but you can’t quit.
Seasons of discouragement are the incubators of courage and character. Discouragement is a normal part of serving God in a fallen world but discouragement must never become our permanent address. That address is at the corner of “a future and a hope.”
Hang in there. Keep sowing good seed. Hold steady. Your harvest is coming!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.