One thing that no one tells you when you first answer the call of God on your life to do ministry is that eventually you will be discouraged. I suppose that I should have been prepared for it, as discouragement isn’t a stranger to most people’s lives, but I can still clearly remember the moment I experienced the first big discouragement of ministry. I don’t exactly remember the details; the who, what, when, where, and how are lost to time, but I do remember how I felt.
Honestly, I was shocked. I was shocked that people who claimed Christianity could be so mean, so hurtful, so shallow. These were people who claimed Jesus as their Savior, and who I thought were striving toward a life lived for Him…but I was wrong. Not only was I hurt; I was discouraged, which I quickly came to understand was the worst part of the whole situation.
Discouragement goes deeper than a simple insult or jab. Discouragement attacks not just the things we have done, but the motive behind them, and plants seeds of doubt and fear that take our focus off what we’ve been called to. And if there’s anything that our Enemy wants, it is a disruption of the sacred calling that we have, keeping us ineffective and weak. Discouragement continually asks the “what if ” questions we all have but are scared of, which causes a critical shift of focus from God’s will to our own selfish fears and doubts.
As shepherds of God’s sheep, we must seek to move past discouragement, not staying content to live defeated and distracted in it. It’s important to note that we simply can’t acknowledge it with a passing tip of the hat, though. There are valuable lessons and scars (yes, scars can be valuable) we can glean from wrestling with our discouragement and coming out on the other side, so we can’t just dismiss it. Here’s some things I think we need to be mindful of when finding ourselves doing ministry in the midst of discouragement:
1. Ministry done from a place of discouragement is almost always reactionary.
This is problematic because reactionary ministry is typically not well thought out. This includes knee jerk reactions, spontaneous creation/termination of programs or policies, and the like. The best ministry we do is proactive, as we seek to use the Holy Spirit’s discernment to see what’s coming down the pike and prepare ourselves and our people for it. I can count WAY more times that reactionary ministry has harmed a church’s witness as opposed to proactive ministry.
Reactionary decisions are more likely in times of discouragement because we are hurt, angry, or uncomfortable. We must realize when we are in those times, take a step back, sleep overnight on it, and allow time for prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance through Scripture and counsel with trusted other believers. It’s better to take our time on issues than to pull the trigger hastily because discouragement is knocking at our door, only to realize afterward that we’ve done irreparable harm to the body of Christ or out witness.
2. Discouragement goes deepest where we are weakest.
Scripture describes Satan many ways, but one of the most striking is that of a prowling lion, waiting for its opening to devour its prey. Satan knows the cracks in our Sunday morning facades, he knows where our armor is torn or broken, in need of repair. It is in these places that he will press hard, seeking to make the gaps wider or maximize the damage from a strike. We sometimes forget that our adversary isn’t just some goofy demon with a pitchfork and a thin moustache he twirls constantly, but an opportunist with all the knowledge and power he needs to push our buttons and destroy our lives. This is where discouragement comes in.
Have low self-esteem? Discouragement will work to make you feel like you’ll never be loved. Have trouble with feeling stupid or slow? Discouragement will make you feel like you’ll never learn anything. Anywhere, yes, anywhere you are vulnerable is a fertilized bed of fruitful soil waiting for discouragement to come along and sow its seeds. It’s there that it’s roots will grow deepest, curling around our souls and refusing to let go. Learning to protect our weak points through accountability, counseling, and Scripture memory is key to blocking this.
3. Discouragement’s true goal is to keep you distracted.
Often in talking with fellow peers in youth ministry, our conversations typically turn to struggles we have had in different situations, and I have noticed a common thread that runs through most of these encounters: we are really good at blaming ourselves for anything and everything. Now, that’s not to say that each of us has made and sometimes occasionally does make mistakes, but rather that discouragement and scapegoating is common to lots of ministry folk. However, that fact along proves my point: discouragement’s main goal in our lives is to distract us from the glorious, amazing, powerful presence of God in our lives and from the holy calling He has placed on our lives.
Discouragement gives us tunnel vision, where our pain is the track and the light at the end of the tunnel is us feeling whole again. We focus so intently on that little pinpoint of light that we think is our salvation that we lose sight of the one who is, making ourselves into God in the process. This is the big lie of discouragement: our comfort is more important that the work and will of God. For those of us who serve in the ministry week in and week out, I don’t have to explain why that’s not good.
The more distracted we are, the more ineffective to the Kingdom we are, and that is ultimately what Satan wants, a legion of weak, distracted, ineffective Christians who are more talk than walk. This is where discouragement leads us, and seeks to keep us, if we will let it. So how do we beat it? What can we do to make it past discouragement?
In ministry, most discouragement comes from wanting to see measurable results in an immeasurable medium. How does one traffic in spiritual transformation? When we don’t see what we believe should be there, we end up frustrated and discouraged. Let me leave you with this little nugget: we cannot produce one single result on our own! While that probably doesn’t make you feel better, it should ring true. Without God’s help, we cannot change one single life. Take time today to rest in the fact that, by God’s grace and mercy, He has called you to participate in His work in a huge way, and that His power through you and in the lives of those other people is what brings about life change. As you rest in that, let go of the discouragement you feel. God has chosen to use you! Sure, there are ups and downs, but He is the one who directs your paths, even through the valleys of discouragement.