Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fighting Discouragement in Ministry-Part 2

Chapter 2-Literature review

As a part of this project there were several resources that I referenced to gather information. I will not take the time to reference each of them in this chapter, but each of them will be listed in a bibliography at the end and quotes from some of them may appear at various points in this project. The following resources though are the ones that have proven most useful to a better understanding of the problem of discouragement (more specifically in ministry) and how to solve the problem when it arises. Again the goal is to be aware of the problem of discouragement so that when faced with it we know how to handle it leading to a lifetime of ministry instead of a crippling depression.

Parrott, Dr. Less III. Helping the Struggling Adolescent. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.---
Before we can address the problem itself, we need to be aware of the problem and how exactly it affects us. The following book covers issues such as anxiety which can lead to discouragement and depression which is the result of discouragement going unchecked. There are several things that were helpful in this resource.
The first are the causes of depression. According to Parrott, “feelings of discouragement can take on the debilitating characteristics of depression.” (Parrott, 117) This thought reaffirms the thought that if we let our discouragement go unchecked it can lead to a depression. He also lists several characteristics that we need to be looking for in order to know if our discouragement. A few of these are loss of interest, being easily agitated or irritated, feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and helplessness. (Parrott, 117) As depression worsens, one can notice additional symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, social withdrawal, difficulty in concentration, and an inability to enjoy pleasurable activities. (Parrott, 117) We need to be aware of these so as we face discouragement if we notice any of these trends we need to find help in some way before we slip into a deeper state of depression.
There is some hope provided in this resource as well. Parrott lists several types of depression in three main categories-“endogenous (chemical related), reactive (brought on by real or imagined threats), and neurotic (a lifestyle response to stress and anxiety). (Parrott, 117) Most of the depression that comes from discouragement in ministry is more than likely a reactive depression due to some circumstance we are facing in ministry. This provides hope since according to Parrott since “this usually lasts no longer than a few months.” (Parrott, 117) This is very beneficial to us as we look at solving the problem of discouragement in ministry because if we just hang in there and persevere, the depression will pass with time as will the discouragement.

Now that we have looked at a resource that better helps us understand discouragement and depression and what it is, let us look at some resources that help us to better understand how to battle these two when faced with them.

Fields, Doug. Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2002.---

While this resource is primarily a “how to” manual for those starting out in youth ministry, Fields does offer some very useful information on fighting discouragement in ministry. In addition to this, he also offers a chapter on staying spiritually fresh (which can prevent discouragement or greatly help when one is faced with it) as well as dealing with difficult people (which can be another source of discouragement among pastors). The greatest help in solving our problem though comes in the chapter specifically called “why do I feel this way? Dealing with discouragement.”
In this chapter Fields opens with this quote: “Discouragement may be the single most powerful feeling that entices great women and men to exit prematurely from youth ministry. If you can learn how to navigate the ebb and flow of discouragement, many years of youth ministry effectiveness can be listed on your life’s resume.” (Fields, 41) This sums up the whole purpose behind this project and affirms the thought that if discouragement goes unchecked, it can lead to depression and ultimately one’s premature exit from youth ministry or ministry in general.
It is my belief that there are several common causes of discouragement in ministry. I have mentioned some of them in previous chapters, and will go into greater detail about them in a later chapter. However Fields does provide an extensive list of causes of discouragement in ministry and some of them are as follows: “lack of respect, miscommunication, conflict, criticism, conflicting expectations, no support from the senior pastor, minimal support from parents, staff, and volunteers, verbal abuse, and a failed program.” (Fields, 42) All of these are similar to some of the reasons mentioned earlier and those that will be covered in a later portion of this project.
In addition to all of this information, Fields lists feelings that will discourage us in our spiritual journey of ministry as well as shares some of his own personal struggle with discouragement which shows that we are not alone when we face this problem in ministry.
Fields also show us what discouragement is. It is “untimely” meaning it comes when we least want it (usually after a success). It is “selfish” meaning that it places the focus on ourselves and turns us inward instead of upward. Finally it is “lonely” meaning that it is a very dark time in our lives that pulls us down. (Fields, 46-47)
In addition to all of the information listed above, Doug Fields also shares some of his own experience with discouragement in youth ministry. He also shares some practical steps to battling discouragement in ministry. Both of these areas are relevant to the problem we are trying to solve, but since these would fall into another chapter I will make reference to them at a later time.

Stier, Greg. Ministry Mutiny. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.--

To say that this resource changed my life would be an understatement. This youth ministry resource is written in fable format, but provides some extremely relevant information for anyone who is struggling with discouragement in ministry. In this book Greg Stier tells the story of Ty, a youth minister who has “had enough.” He has written his resignation letter with plans to turn it in after he attends what he believes will be his last youth network meeting. He meets Tony a veteran youth worker who introduces Ty to 6 life changing principles to help revolutionize his ministry with his students. The six principles are:
1. “Listen for God’s whisper (search the scriptures and then reflect, pray write, and listen for what God is trying to show you)”
2. “Get real” (find out where each of your teens stands spiritually and then work with them individually to help them take the next step spiritually)
3. “Go wide” (share the gospel, and encourage your teens to do the same on a regular basis)
4. “Grow deep” (make disciples-instill in your students the 30 core truths about God they need to know)
5. “No More Outsourcing” (Get those in your church involved, especially parents)
6. “Build on values, not fads” (build your ministry and focus your effort around the five values mentioned in Acts 2:42-47 (Stier, 159-162)

My initial pull toward this book came from reading the back sleeve which of course introduces Ty who is ready to give up and walk away from the ministry. As I shared earlier, that is where I was 6 months ago. After reading this book though, I feel that this is an excellent resource in helping us to solve the problem of discouragement in ministry. This book focuses on the programming aspect of ministry. We have been trained over the last few years in youth ministry to focus on the program. The bigger the program and bigger the ministry, the more successful the youth pastor is. This can lead to discouragement though for those who are in a smaller church or who are not seeing the results that the “big event” ministries are accomplishing. This resource provides a great game plan for someone who is struggling with overcoming discouragement caused by the stress of getting results.

Wiseman, Neil B. & HB London Jr. The Heart of a Great Pastor. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1994.---

This book is ultimately designed to be a resource for pastors who need encouragement. It was written primarily “to help pastors renew their sense of self-worth and to revive their passion for ministry.” (Wiseman & London, 11) That statement alone makes this a vital resource in solving our problem of discouragement in ministry. Although it was written more for pastors who lead a church, there are several helpful chapters that can be used to better know how to battle discouragement in ministry.
In the first chapter, “Every Assignment is Holy Ground,” we get the reassurance that God places us where we are supposed to be, and no matter where that is, we have a purpose while we are there. The authors provide some questions that we must answer when we are struggling that will ultimately shape our ministry and determine our effectiveness where we are serving. The questions are as follows:
1. What difference will I make?
2. Why am I here?
3. Who sent me?
4. Is this assignment sacred because God sent me here?
5. What does God want to accomplish here?
(Wiseman & London, 19)
As we are facing discouragement in ministry it is really easy for us to lose our focus as to why we are doing what we are doing. As Fields mentioned earlier in his book, we begin to focus on the “me” aspect of ministry and forget why we are doing what we are doing. These questions help us to refocus ourselves and realize what our true mission is. As we are dealing with discouragement it is important for us to ask these questions of ourselves on a daily basis.
Also in the first chapter, the authors point out that there is potential in every assignment. If you are struggling with discouragement, know that no matter where you are, there is potential there, so stick with it. They point out “There are not enough easy assignments to go around, and most desirable places were difficult until a previous pastor loved the church into greatness.” (Wiseman & London, 26) Ministry is not always going to be easy. They mention that endurance must be transformed into an adventure. Even though things are tough and we are discouraged we can choose joy and happiness in the midst of discouragement. This quote stood out more than any in the chapter. “We can unpack our bags, stop longing for greener pastures and assume spiritual responsibility for our place of ministry. We can claim the territory for God and righteousness.” (Wiseman & London, 27) As you are struggling with discouragement in ministry, know that God has placed you where he wants you to be for a purpose and a plan and no matter where you are there is potential.
Another helpful chapter was entitled “bloom where you’re planted.” This chapter focuses a lot on the idea of how we often look at difficult times when we are discouraged and think that if we could just go some place else things would be better. The truth is that when we are faced with discouragement in ministry we need to make sure we realize that God wants us to grow and serve where we are currently at, no matter how difficult it may seem. We need to rely on God for the health of our ministries and not ourselves. The authors point out this fact that is encouraging: “An absolutely indispensable factor in sustaining a healthy ministry is the willingness for a pastor to view his setting from God’s perspective.” (Wiseman & London, 59)
If we are discouraged in our current ministry setting, we need to look at it from God’s perspective. Another encouraging thing they point out comes from this quote: “Apparently the pastors who long for greener pastures have never considered the reality that every good place requires someone to transform a tough assignment into a special, desirable church by blooming there.” (Wiseman & London, 59) Too often when we get discouraged we want to give up too easily. One of the most popular statistics thrown around in youth ministry circles today is the idea that the average youth pastor stays in one place for only 18 months. Whether or not this is actually true could be debated, but what would happen if we stuck things out and trusted that God has us where we are for a reason?
If we are struggling with discouragement in ministry and that has led to a depression, we may or may not be questioning our call to ministry and whether or not God can even use us. In the chapter “fall in love with your call again” the authors give us a list of questions that can be useful in reaffirming God’s call on our lives even when we don’t see it. Here are the questions:
1. Who called you?
2. Who started you in this work?
3. How does love leak out of ministry?
4. What will it take to make love your most compelling motivation again?
5. Has secular culture strangled significance out of Christian service for you?
(Wiseman & London, 117)
If we are able to answer these questions when we begin to struggle with discouragement, perhaps we may be able to ward off the depression that comes with questioning whether God can and is using you. All of the material in this book is very helpful for battling discouragement in ministry. These questions of self-realization are ultra important to help us to battle the discouragement that comes. If we are able to answer all of these questions honestly perhaps we can prevent some of the discouragement that we will face when ministry gets tough in our current situation.

Wiseman, Neil B & HB London Jr. Pastors at ‘Greater’ Risk. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003.---

This book is actually a reprint of a book originally published in 1993 as Pastors at Risk. This version is an updated edition that addresses more issues that pastors are facing in ministry today that weren’t an issue when the original book was written just ten years earlier. It is again a valuable resource just as the previous book even though it is written for pastors in general and not just one specific type of pastor. It is meant to encourage and challenge pastors who are struggling and so it fits right in line with our desire to address the problem of discouragement in ministry.
One of the first things that stood out in this book was the idea of balance. London points to this concept in an interview with James Dobson. He says, “Their (referring to pastors) most pressing problems relate to time, money, and family. Balance is the principle issue; everyone wants it but few seem able to make it work for them.” (Wiseman & London, 23-24) Another main cause of discouragement among pastors is the issue of balancing all of the expectations and roles we must fulfill. If we are aware of the pulls on our lives and we can begin to better manage these areas we will be less likely to battle discouragement in this area. Another element that the authors emphasize is the concept of perseverance. They mention this statistic: “The typical pastor has his greatest ministry impact at a church in years 5-14 of his pastorate; unfortunately, the average pastor lasts only five years at a church.” (Wiseman & London, 38) Things may be tough, but if we can stick it out and make the best of it, we will see the fruits of our labor in time. Ministry, especially youth ministry, is about planting seeds and waiting for them to cultivate in the lives of our students.
Wiseman and London also point out several “hazards” of ministry in this book. These hazards range anywhere from unrealistic expectations, to leadership struggles, shifting morality, and many more. It is interesting to note again, that these are the same items that cause frustration and discouragement for us as youth pastors. This points us towards the importance of networking with others who are ministering with us. I’ll talk more about the senior pastor/staff pastor relationship later, but perhaps if we look at our ministries this way, we might improve our relationships with our supervisors and seek to work alongside each other a little closer.
The biggest help in this book came in the chapter geared toward “recovery from stress and burnout.” While it is primarily an interview Archibald Hart it provides some valuable insight into learning how to deal with discouragement as well as recover from the burnout that may occur from depression due to discouragement in ministry. One statistic that was somewhat shocking, but expected states that “45.5 percent of pastors say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.” (Wiseman & London, 175) If you are dealing with depression and are ready to call it quits, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! According to that statistic, it is very common among pastors, so hang in there, realize there are those who have been through it before you and there is hope. Another useful item comes in a list of eight top areas of stress among pastors. These are almost identical to the ones mentioned earlier that will be hashed out in greater detail later in the manual. If we can begin to better manage these and understand where the stress comes from, we can begin to anticipate discouragement, perhaps even prevent it and keep us from heading down the slippery slope that leads to depression and possibly leaving the ministry. Here are the eight areas:
o Time
o Boundaries
o Isolation/loneliness
o Conflict
o Mobility
o Life in the parsonage (fish bowl syndrome)
o Concern for children/spouse
o Family dynamics (Wiseman & London, 172)
Since these are common and similar for staff pastors as well, we need to make ourselves aware that eventually we may be faced with stress from one or more of these areas. The sooner we can grasp managing these, the sooner we will have less to lead to discouragement. Wiseman and London even provide some ways to deal with these stresses. They suggest the following in dealing with these stresses and learning to live within the call that God has placed on your life wherever you are serving no matter how difficult it is (Wiseman & London, 185):
· Rethink your day off (don’t just automatically take Monday)
· Welcome your spouse into prevention (don’t be a lone ranger-she is your partner)
· Reach across isolation (you need others and they need you)
· Take charge of your prevention or recovery (YOU have to decide to deal with the burnout and stress that cause discouragement and lead to depression)
· Confront your addictions (Don’t use ministry as your “drug of choice”
· Limit the number of clinging vines (You can’t carry too many emotional people at one time)
· Get back to doing what you want to do (work through the pressing demands to get to the more satisfying areas of ministry)
All of the concepts listed in the book above are essential in helping us to refocus our lives in ministry. If we are able to refocus we are less likely to deal with the discouragement that will come with frustrations in the areas above.

Fields, Doug. What Matters Most. El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2006.---

This last book is a small jewel that is invaluable to the youth pastor who is dealing with discouragement. While it is short (only 96 pages) it is something that everyone in youth ministry should read. Even if the person is somehow immune to the discouragement we are referring to, this book is priceless. The entire focus of the book is simply about stepping back, looking at our lives and what really matters the most. Do all of the programs, speaking engagements, and activities matter in the grand scheme of things? What good are they to us if they lead us down a road that leads to burnout, which leads to discouragement, which leads to depression? This little book asks us to do the following three things:
1. Define what matters most in our lives.
2. Ask some tough questions of ourselves.
3. Add “no” to our vocabulary (Fields, 96)
Fields suggests that if we do these three things, we are well on the road to a spiritual health in ministry that is way beyond many who are serving today. This is so helpful to solving our problem because one of the major causes of discouragement is being overwhelmed with commitments and expectations. If we learn early how to say no and draw specific boundaries, we automatically eliminate one stress from our lives and that is one less stress that can contribute discouragement in ministry.
All of the resources mentioned above in addition to the ones I will reference later in the paper and in the bibliography are essential in helping us to solve the problem of discouragement in ministry. If we take the time to apply the concepts mentioned in the items like these we are bound to find ways to battle the discouragement that we will experience during our time in ministry.

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