How to Better Weather the Storms of Ministry
- April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributor
- 2019 19 Jun
I remember sitting in a seminary class listening to our professor, a former pastor, detail his experience in the trenches of church ministry.
He’d been full of hope and energy after graduating seminary. He moved his young family up to the Northern Pacific to serve a struggling church. In a short amount of time, he implemented programs and worked hard to grow the church.
Then one day, the church board decided he’d grown the church too much. They didn’t want all the new people changing their comfortable church. He was fired. No warning.
My heart broke for him and his family, but I thought surely this must be a unique experience. Yet, I began to see that trials in ministry are not the exception, but more often the norm.
I’ve witnessed pastors worn into the ground by a congregation that argued over everything: what color toilet paper should our bathrooms have? Should we buy new crayons for children’s ministry or just make do? Then there’s the stress of how to handle colleagues and staff you might be responsible for when there are infidelities, addictions, and other damaging issues.
Church splits, church plant nose dives, and older churches closing doors—as much as we wish it wasn’t so, these aren’t unusual.
Add to that the heaviness within the church family: marriages in pain, distressing diagnoses, car accidents, tragedies, those wanting or refusing help, and your own set of human struggles.
A life of ministry is a life of much joy and purpose, but also some of the most intense emotional and spiritual pressures a person can face.
The hopeful news is that while pressure in ministry is profound, we aren’t alone in our struggle.
I used to think that if I was truly connected to the Holy Spirit, I somehow would be wrapped in a sort of holy bubble that made me immune to feeling crushed by people’s wrongful accusations, being misunderstood, or having a passionate ministry labor totally flop.
I believed (and beat myself up when I didn’t measure up to my own expectations) that I shouldn’t feel strained over the difficulties of figuring out how to obey the Lord in an intense, interpersonal dynamic.
One day, when the stresses were piling up faster than I could hand them over to the Lord, that set of expectations I had for myself took their final blow, and truth reassembled my expectations.
Jesus sweat blood (Luke 22:44). He was so stressed in the garden over the difficulty of submitting to the Father that He actually sweat blood. If our Lord experienced the difficulty of being human, with limits and struggles, and, in His humanness, sweat blood over the pressure to obey, why would we think obeying God would suddenly become easy and pressure-free?
Starting now, you can stop beating yourself up over being human.
That’s exactly how God made you—with all your feelings and limitations. Sure, we ought to grow and change to be more like Jesus. But don’t expect more from yourself than He does.
Jesus cried, He got worn out with people; He felt stress; He needed naps and alone time. We also need to cry, let ourselves admit when we are worn out with people, confess the stress we feel, and ask people to pray for us. That’s what Jesus did in the garden with His pressure. And yes, we need rest and alone time too.
Remember other leaders in the Bible who also faced storms.
While we are turning the pages of Scripture for reassurance to tuck in our hearts for the inevitable storms of ministry, remember these other examples:
Ancient Jewish texts allude to his being sawn in half as he hid in a tree because the people didn’t want to hear any more of God’s words from him. Don’t expect that the words the Lord lays on your heart will always be well-received. Most of God’s prophets were rejected or killed. In a culture of big Christian conferences and best-seller lists, that’s a hard reality to swallow when you sign up to speak and teach for the Lord. But it is, nonetheless, as true today as it was when prophets were alive.
He was stalked at his church plants by opposers who wanted to uproot his work. They accused him falsely of trying to get money from them, and dislodging the gospel to implant Judaic laws in its place. He was beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned in his efforts to serve Christ. He was betrayed and abandoned by friends.
If your labors are threatened, if you are falsely accused, if you meet hardship in your service, if friends leave you, don’t feel like the Lord isn’t with you or that you took a misstep. It might just be part of your sifted journey.
He was betrayed, accused, and only had a small group of followers. Don’t feel like the Lord’s seal of approval is missing if your ministry experiences these things.
Joseph and Mary:
While they weren’t preacher-type ministers, they were most definitely servants of the Lord. I can only imagine how, in the midst of all that transpired when Jesus was born, they must have wondered how a divine plan could be so hard. No place for them, legitimate needs with no good options, a crazy king killing all the babies, and then having to flee for their lives—yet, all of it was part of God’s plan. So don’t shrink from your calling when the calling comes with more difficulty than you expected.
-You’re allowed to be human.
-You’re allowed to be broken hearted.
-You’re allowed to have your faith stretched and tested.
-You’re allowed to not have all the answers.
What is necessary is a heart of worship, service, and faithfulness.
Try these five practices to weather the storms in ministry:
Resist pride. The Lord is near to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), and no struggle is improved with pride.
Pray and ask others to pray for you. Remember Jesus’ example in the garden (Matthew 26:36-38).
Don’t be alone! Remember Moses with Aaron and Hur: he needed someone to hold up his hands for Israel to get the victory. You do too (Exodus 17:8-13).
Move slowly in your responses. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
- Hold on to what’s true: what’s true about God, what’s true about you, and what’s true about the Lord’s people. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32) from false expectations, burdens, and disillusionment.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.
Photo Credit: GettyImages/Marcus-Millo