Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fighting Discouragement in Ministry-Part 1

A few of you have asked me to post my project so I will. Just to explain a few things about it-it is somewhat unique in the fact that it is a combination of several things. It is not a thesis where I report on an original idea that I have researched. It is a little bit of a combination of a thesis meets book report meets curriculum meets practical life application. That is the only way i can explain it. The introduction explains all of this, but know it is a little bit of everything put together into a seven chapter manual that someone could look at if they were struggling with discouragement in ministry. This project for me is more than an assignment it's something I am working through on my own. Most of you know that I have struggled for a while now with this issue. My purpose in this was not just to work through the assignment, but to hopefully help someone down the road as they struggle through the same thing. God is good and if you are struggling in your ministry-STICK WITH IT! Here is the first part...

Hanging out and Hanging Tough:
“Dealing with Discouragement as a Staff Pastor in the Church of Today”

Ministry discouragement is very real. It is not something to take lightly and it cannot be avoided. At some point in ministry almost everyone will suffer from some type of discouragement. If left unchecked, this discouragement can lead to depression or worse yet- someone leaving the ministry. It may be caused by conflict, lack of support, or any other number of things, but the truth is it is very real. It also seems to be especially prominent in the lives of those who are serving as staff pastors in ministry. Often this seems to be caused by things such as multiple responsibilities that can be overwhelming, lack of support from senior staff/supervisors, unrealistic expectations from individuals in the church, or a myriad of other things that affect staff pastors on a deeper level. In this project we will be looking at the issue of discouragement in ministry specifically on the level of a staff pastor as well as how to deal with it when it arises. Discouragement most likely will occur at some point in one’s ministry so if one knows how to anticipate it they know better how to handle it. The end result will be a mini-manual that anyone struggling with discouragement in ministry can use to help them through this difficult time. It will be a combination of the materials reviewed for this project, the method of research conducted (surveys and interviews), Words of encouragement from Scripture, thoughts from professionals and peers in ministry, and a chapter that pulls it together by showing ways of fighting discouragement by being aware of it before it happens as well as tools to remember when one is fighting it.

Chapter 1-Introduction
Have you ever felt like giving up? Have you ever thought about leaving the ministry? Have you ever wondered whether or not God could use you or if you were just in His way? Well, I have as well as many others-and that is why there is a need for a project of this multitude. What am I talking about? I am talking about discouragement in ministry. It is a very real occurrence and it can be crippling. If you have never experienced it, you may not understand, but if you have you will know exactly what I am referring to. The following quotes from my personal blog ( over the past year illustrate where I have been, what this project is about, and why I am choosing to pursue this problem in ministry. Here are two excerpts-one from last October and another from more recently:
“Honestly for a long while I have felt like I have been dying inside… this year to me was going to be make or break. I was ready to give up. I have felt like I have been pushing and pushing without any results and have felt attacked… by parents and apathy among the youth ministry students and leaders. So I really had been contemplating whether or not I was cut out for this...Or whether it was even worth it or if I was God's man or was just in God's way.
(October, 2006)
“God I am so discouraged tonight. I just don't understand what I am doing wrong. I don't understand why these teens don't like me. I am pouring myself into them and doing all I can do, yet when it comes to youth night, a fun outing, or spiritual event they don't come. Friday night we had the senior high night out and only 3 came, tonight for the TLW rally only one "wanted" to come and we had to drag the other three to get them to go. I hear things like "they're too busy," "the have to do this school event," or worse yet and the one that hurts the most-"they went to another church with so and so." Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the ones who do come, but I am discouraged. God I don't know what to do…Am I not fun enough? Do I preach too long? Do I not play enough games? Is it because I sometimes side with their parents or try to help them see that we as adults (parents too) do love them? I have been trying everything I know how to do and yet they still don't come or they bring the mood down when they do come. What am I doing wrong? Are they trying to push me out? Do they want us to leave? We are trying so hard to show them we care and spend time with them as much as we can, but something isn't working. I know you aren't done with us here yet. God I'm not going to give up, but I am just discouraged tonight, please touch my heart this evening, I need your love tonight.” (February, 2007)

When I wrote the first journal entry in October of last year I was sensing that something was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit it. I passed it off as selfishness and accounted it to a lack of a deeper relationship with God. It wasn’t until just before I wrote the second entry that I realized that this discouragement had slipped into something much deeper-depression. I struggled with admitting that it was real because I was a pastor. Pastors are supposed to help people with discouragement and depression, not deal with it themselves right?
The truth is that discouragement is very real among pastors. Most pastors at some point will experience discouragement to some degree during their time in the ministry. The problem arises though in how they handle the discouragement. As mentioned left unchecked it can lead to a depression which could ultimately cause the end of a career for a minister.
So the question arises then how do we handle discouragement as pastors? In the next few chapters we will provide a manual that can be used to combat discouragement when faced with it. There will be several elements to this project manual.
The first will be a literature review featuring resources that can be used to better understand discouragement and depression as well as practical thoughts and material that is both relevant to and encouragement for pastors who are struggling with discouragement. These resources will include journals from those in youth ministry, websites dedicated to encouraging those who are discouraged (including blogs), as well as various books ranging in topics from starting out in ministry to staying the course in ministry. Each of these will provide some useful element when fighting discouragement in ministry.
The next chapter will explain in detail the research method used in gathering information about pastors who deal with discouragement. The primary method used for this project featured an interview process and surveys that were given to youth pastors within my district and region in the Church of the Nazarene as well as a select few group of youth pastors/staff pastors in the Church of the Nazarene and other holiness denominations scattered throughout the United States. This research features only a small number of people and will not be able to be used to show concrete statistics about discouragement in ministry, but it will be useful in seeing some possible trends that with further study could possibly be proven. The purpose of the interviews and surveys is to gather information about those serving in staff ministry in order to see what common frustrations they may be experiencing, how the different dynamics of their churches affect their outlook, and how their support network helps or hurts them in ministry. With this information we will be able to begin to understand some of what may cause ministry frustration which leads to discouragement, and if left unchecked depression.
The fourth chapter will highlight the results of the surveys as well as offer words from those serving in the trenches as staff pastors themselves. The results of the surveys as well as comments made by these ministry professionals will help us to gather some possible common causes of discouragement and depression among staff pastors (and perhaps pastors in general). We will look at common themes that arise and see where the frustrations lie that lead to discouragement in ministry. These results will help someone struggling with discouragement to realize that they are not alone, they are normal, and there is hope. These results will also help make us aware of these things so that the next time we are faced with them we will know how to respond and hopefully avoid the discouragement we are currently struggling with.
The fifth chapter will look at discouragement through the eyes of the Scripture. We will look at practical theological thoughts that help us to better understand several things. First we will realize that we are God’s and His plan is ultimately better than our plan. Second we will realize that we are not alone. Finally we will look at some practical applications for our lives through the ministry of Jesus and what He has to say to us about discouragement and depression. Often I have found that discouragement in my life is more prominent during times of spiritual struggle. The more we wrap our minds around the Scripture, the more prepared we will be the next time we are faced with discouragement in ministry. That is why this chapter is so useful to this project.
The sixth chapter will serve as a catch all chapter where we pull it all together. We will have a better understanding of why there are discouraging moments in ministry, what are some common causes of these moments, and how we can deal with them when they arise. Basically I will be pulling everything together from the research and adding some final thoughts on solving the problem that is discouragement in ministry. We will know what the problem is, and this will reaffirm how we can solve the problem, or at least be better prepared the next time we face it.
The final chapter will be a conclusion and wrap up. It will feature some final encouraging words and will serve as a summary and rehashing of everything we have read thus far. It will put all the pieces together and will bring closure to the issue at hand. It may not “solve” the problem of discouragement in ministry, but it will be a resource that someone can use when faced with difficult times in ministry.
Just to summarize where we are going with this project, let me explain things once more. Discouragement is a very real problem for those serving in ministry. It can be brought on by many things which will be examined, and if left unchecked it can lead to a deeper problem of depression. This project looks at this issue and how to combat it now and in the future resulting in a lifetime of ministry rather than a burned out, wounded pastor who leaves the ministry because of depression before his time is done.

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