What should you do if you’re a pastor and have lost the passion for your calling?
What can you do when your assignment seems fuzzy, difficult, perplexing, and you find yourself wondering: “God, why did You lead me to this church?”
Most pastors wrestle with these thoughts occasionally. A couple of difficult Sundays in a row, people problems, feelings of inadequacy (we ask: “am I doing a good job?”), a lack of visible results—sometimes even several good Sundays in a row—these can snowball into wondering: “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”
Now: every job has its own set of unique stresses. After twenty years in the corporate world, I’ve observed the following: every role carries with it a degree of difficulty and some unpleasant components. But for me, there is something uniquely stress-inducing about pastoral ministry. When pastors go through a rough stretch, they can feel trapped. Despair can seep in. They often wonder “Who can I talk to about this? And if I open up about it, what will people think about me?” It doesn’t take long before it feels like the walls are closing in.
So . . . what can we do if we feel passionless, perplexed, discouraged, or desperate when it comes to pastoral ministry? What should we do when we’re on the verge of bailing?
Understand stress goes with the territory
The apostle Paul told his friends in Corinth that he had moments where he felt hard-pressed, perplexed, and squeezed by the daily pressure of concern for his churches. This accomplished leader experienced moments of paralyzing despair, at times so heavy he thought he wouldn’t survive. If Paul had rough stretches, why do we get surprised when we do? I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s distress here. But accepting the reality of periodic tough-sledding in pastoral ministry helps us be less shocked when it happens, and reduces the likelihood of a premature exit from the role.
Encourage yourself in the Lord
King David went through a boatload of tough seasons as a leader. One stretch was so bad, his most loyal men wanted to kill him. Think for a moment about how you would feel if your staff was plotting to whack you. 1 Samuel 30:6 says: “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters; but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (KJV) I suspect David encouraged himself in the Lord by getting alone with God, pouring out his heart, and recounting the times God helped him in the past. And it’s interesting that soon after this crisis, David won a huge victory over the Philistines. I wonder how many times is victory just around the corner from despair?
When we’re struggling, we can’t expect others to carry the entire emotional load for us. We have a part to play, a responsibility to do our best to encourage ourselves as David did. I review my journal notes when a rough spot comes along. These entries help me remember the dozens of examples of God’s faithfulness, answered prayers, and outright miracles in the past. The journal captures moments of despair and how God brought me through each one. Reviewing it reminds me God is inherently good, even when times are tough. Five minutes of journal reading helps me encourage myself in the Lord, and keeps me in the game. That being said . . .
Don’t carry the weight alone
A shared burden is automatically cut in half. If we isolate ourselves in our passion-less-ness, in our perplexity, in our moments of despair, we become more susceptible to Satan’s lying whispers. And we’re more likely to quit too soon. When isolated, we have no one to challenge our thought processes. Nobody to help us sort through the maze of negative feelings crowding in on us. No one to support us in prayer. Isolation is good only in small doses. Extended isolation compounds our problems. Of course, we need to be careful with whom we share our struggles. Not every person we meet is a good candidate. Ron Edmonson lists these four qualities of a true friend: Unconditional love, unwavering support, willingness to challenge, and being full of grace. I would add the ability to keep confidences to Ron’s list.
Pastor if you’re in a rough stretch, feeling confused, inadequate, discouraged, or desperate—hang in there. Understand these periodic emotions go with the pastoral territory. Encourage yourself in the Lord. Get out your journal and remember God’s faithfulness. If you’re not journaling, maybe this would be a good time to start. Tell the devil to shut it—don’t give him an inch of territory in your mind. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. If negative thoughts and emotions are overwhelming you, and you’re ready to hang up your cleats, do everything in your power to find a true friend to confide in before you decide it’s time to quit.
Stress and pastoral leadership go together. The temptation to quit will knock on your door more than once. So, you’ll have to learn how to encourage yourself on a regular basis. And to humble yourself and reach out for help when the weight gets too heavy and you feel like you’re painted into a corner.
I’m rooting and praying for your longevity!
P.S. – Stung by the recent departures of people from your church? Feeling discouraged or maybe even betrayed? Our book, Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People, will help you process in a healthier way the disappointment and pain when someone you’ve poured time and energy into decides to leave for another church. You can pick up a copy here.