Finding Encouragement as a Pastor and Leader
"Ministry is one of the hardest jobs in the world." I bet you've heard this said multiple times, but the general public hardly believes this to be true. They imagine you sitting around and praying, reading all day, playing with children, having sweet conversations with the elderly, or performing joyous weddings. "Spend a day in the shoes" of a leader and you'll find that these wonderful perks are also laced with constant drama, family disagreements, difficult counseling, peacemaking, fist fights, biting (yes, literally), police, death, and funerals (just to get started). Like a surgeon, the bloody, messy insides of humans are laid out right before you daily. Is your scalpel—I mean— Bible ready? This isn't a 9-5 job. There are no real 'days off.' Pastors find themselves doing the dirty work like emptying the trash, mowing the lawn, and unclogging that toilet that backs up every single week in the middle of service.
I rant in this way not to complain, but to say this: We understand your frustrations. We've thought and felt the same things. You're not alone.
The above list isn't even the most difficult issue: Sharing the Word of God often makes ministers a target. I've noted time and time again the instances where pastors and leadership across America are accused of everything under the sun; mostly through gossip rather than actual fact (Tip: accusers should steer towards 1 Timothy 5:19-20).
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to myths.” -1 Timothy 4:3
The truth hurts. Myths are happy because they contain things like… unicorns. When you tell people they can't have unicorns, they may decide to make you a dart board; it's just a fact. Jesus went through it too, so feel special and always be on guard:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” -Acts 20:28
Now that's a rather hefty calling. So how can we, as pastors, ministers, leaders, and volunteers ease this burden on ourselves? Sometimes it's difficult to ask for help; especially as leadership. Leaders are usually rather giving people, causing them to sometimes ignore and forget that the Lord has set aside something, even if it's just words, for you. When the going gets tough, sometimes Encouragement doesn't come to you; you have to find it yourself.
The bible says you deserve Encouragement.
"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." -1 Timothy 5:17
We're going to hit some points on how to grab yourself some Encouragement.
ENCOURAGEMENT from People
This type of Encouragement is hardest to grab. Sometimes you need to just accept that they’ll never appreciate you until your dead. Moses went through it. Christ himself went through it. Folks can give you grief, but once you’re dead, they’ll name the fellowship hall after you. The best we can do is to challenge our church members to encourage eachother. If you're lucky, it may have a trickle-down effect. Here's a verse to start your next sermon:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up...” -1 Thessalonians 5:11
ENCOURAGEMENT from Other Leaders
We have to stick it out together. Find meetings, groups, even message forums online to get in contact with others in the ministry. Stop skipping those organization-wide leadership conferences; you're bound to make a friend. Make sure you have a friend in the ministry, even if they're in India or Taiwan. Everyone needs to vent. If you don't, you'll explode and all the bits laying about will be no good to anyone.
Make sure you have a mentor (which is somewhat different than a friend). Even if you’re…. well… old… it doesn’t mean you can’t have a mentor. I don’t know if my head would still be screwed on if I didn’t call or Skype one of my pastor friends every few days. He encourages and sticks with me.
ENCOURAGEMENT from Yourself
I’m not talking about speaking to yourself in 3rd person; you'll get fired and perhaps locked up. Have you ever received a card or gift from someone whose life you made a difference in? What did you do with it afterward? Have a specific shelf in my office for those things. I eventually made a four inch binder/scrapbook of those rare items.
When the going gets really tough, force yourself to look at these things. Share them with your family. Share them with those difficult people who think you’re less than par. Be encouraged and move on, because Proverbs 9:8 basically says, "Haters Gonna Hate."
“These people hate me for not being able to mind read... But at least I know I’m making a difference in Such-n-Such's life—here it is!" Sharing these things is called a testimony. It’s not a boast in yourself as long as you give the Lord credit for using you. It’s what He wants you to do:
"Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." -2 Corinthians 10:17
Also, some Encouragement for yourself—play some golf! You see older pastors do it all the time. Learn from your elders. Play some golf. Or Mario. Have some “down” time. You deserve it. If you don’t take it, it’s wrong; even God had His day of rest.
ENCOURAGEMENT from the Lord
People have always relied on Encouraging scriptures. It’s important. Things like:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” -James 4:8
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
Sadly, there is not a ton of outright scriptural Encouragement specifically directed towards ministers, just towards people in general. Why? Probably because everyone is expected to be a minister, so don’t count yourself as special. ;) BUT there are TONS of stories of leaders (who usually had it way worse than us) who accomplished great things: The disciples, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, the early church. You can read those stories.
On the outside, you could feel like the Lord doesn’t seem to be outright Encouraging most of the time. It's mainly that feeling of 'Once you conquer a hill' with the Lord, 'there’s always another mountain.' Then a new planet after that. Have you ever found yourself wondering at night if you’ve done everything you could with your day of ministry? Cried yourself to sleep over it? The thing is, you need to realize what He’s doing… This was groundbreaking for me, because God always seemed like such a tease:
He’s Setting the Bar Higher
He expects great things out of us. Isn’t that Encouraging in itself? If God is our Father, think about how Father’s work. Fathers expect great things out of their kids. Not because fathers want them to fail in achieving those things, but because they want children to reach out as far as they can.
“My kid’s gonna be the president of the United States!” Probably not. But kids reach higher, bigger goals with that outlook in mind. Your kid settling for mayor or senator is just as good. ;)
A Real Life Teacher Study. Two classes. Two different expectations. The teacher encouraged the kid to get the right answer while thinking, “They’re just having an off day." = Good students. The teacher just moved on and asked the next question, thinking, “They’re never going to get anywhere.” = Bad students. Have you ever had a teacher that expected a lot out of you? One who didn’t? You can do all things with the Lord—He knows it. He wrote it.
He’ll always be above us, our Father. If every task was always within easy reach, we’d never gain strength.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:13
The strength has to come from Him. If we didn’t go through rough times and reach for Him, we’d never grow. We’d never try to do better. We'd never reach higher. He could have preprogrammed you with all of this amazingness, yes, but what fun would there be in that? You wouldn’t appreciate it. You wouldn’t have as much character. It wouldn’t bring Him as much glory.
Though the ministry has been hard, He Encourages us in its subtle, constant growth. You can't care that no one else sees it. You could let bad times get to you, but you need to focus on the good things.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9
Any race worth winning (any soul worth winning) is worth all of the sweat, blood, tears, rejection, frustrations, overflowing toilets, and insomniatic tendencies. If you spent 50 years doing ministry and only reached one person—it’s still absolutely, completely worth every minute.
Cristopher Foster | Creative Arts Pastor