Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fighting Discouragement in Ministry-Part 6

Chapter 6-Putting It All Together/Dealing with the Problem

So we have looked at various research, we have conducted research and shown results, we have examined the scriptures. Now we must ask the question what next? This chapter is where the rubber meets the road. We will rehash some of the thoughts from earlier and move forward to how all of this plays out in our ministries today. This chapter brings it all together for us and fills in the blanks.
The first thing we need to reaffirm is that discouragement in ministry is a very real problem. Restating the statistic from earlier in the paper, “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) We will face discouragement in our ministry at some point in time throughout our service, but we don’t have to fall into that statistic. If we anticipate it coming just as a receiver anticipates where the quarterback is going to throw the football we can prepare ourselves for the difficult time we will face.
Second we realize that we are not alone in our struggle with discouragement. Others have been where we are and many may be walking with us right now. It doesn’t matter if you are a rookie or a veteran, you are not alone. Doug Fields points out in his book Your first two years in youth ministry that his journal entries today read almost the same as they did 23 years ago. Here are two small excerpts from those journals. In 1979 he wrote, “I feel so alone. Things are going okay, except I feel like I question my call to ministry everyday…even several times a day.” In 2002 he wrote this, “I’m feeling better today, but it seems like it has been several weeks that I have been in the pits.” (Fields, 44)
Now here is a guy that many of us consider to be the one that literally “wrote the book” on youth ministry. If he has struggled with discouragement and still does today, and he is the one so many of us look up to, we can have hope that our discouragement that causes us to feel so alone really isn’t that bad and we aren’t alone after all. It is still common among all of us. The other day I opened up an online article on the website of the Journal of Student Ministries (www.tjosm.com) that opened with this phrase, “By the time you read this I will have left my position as a director of youth ministry. This decision comes after much counsel, prayer, and pain. In the simplest of terms, I’m leaving this position a hurt person, both emotionally and spiritually.” (Seely, www.tjosm.com) This guy is one of us. He isn’t some famous author who is out there; he is one of us in the trenches of ministry just like we are. So realize if the pros still deal with discouragement, and everyday youth pastors like us deal with it, WE ARE NOT ALONE.
Third we need to realize the importance of networking. Since we know we are not alone we need to network with those who are fighting the battle right alongside of us. This can take three forms and perhaps more, but these are the most important.

1. Find a mentor/someone to disciple you: Doug Fields offers us a few tips for finding the right mentor in Your first two years-
· Who impresses me as spiritually mature?
· Who inspires me?
· Who intrigues me?
· Who has reached some of the goals I have set for myself?
· Who do others speak of highly?
· Who do people go to for advice? (Fields, 51)

Once you find this person, ask them specifically to mentor you and have a specific agenda to follow through on. If they are going to help you on your journey you have to have a map of where you want to go.

2. Hang out with non-ministry friends: When we are caught up in the busyness of ministry often times we forget to network with friends outside of our ministry circles. Foster these friendships away from ministry as long as they are friendships that will build you up and not contribute to your discouragement.

3. Find a network near you: One of the most encouraging times to me is the monthly meeting that I have with several of my brothers in Christ here in Pensacola. We are from all walks of life and denominations but our monthly meeting is a time to vent, fellowship, and pray for each other. It is so beneficial to me and has helped keep me off the “edge” during these past few months of discouragement. If you don’t have a network check online to see if there is one in your community. A great website to look at is the National Network of Youth Ministry (www.nnym.org). If there is not one listed in your town, call around to some of the churches to see what may be available in your area. If there isn’t a network-START ONE! Even if it is people from similar churches, get with people who know what you are facing and where you are coming from. It is living out Proverbs 27:17.
Fourth, realize that there is no perfect ministry out there. No matter where we go we will be faced with problems of some sort. The church is made up of people. People are sinful by nature. Sin makes us hurt others. Hurt people hurt other people. No matter what there will always be someone who will have some complaint about some aspect of your ministry. You are not perfect, so be willing to admit when you are wrong, offer a listening ear if necessary, and do your best to love those who choose to hurt you. With time, you will win over your critics if you love on them just like Christ loves on us. There are banners in Christian bookstores everywhere that read “bloom where you are planted.” That is the key to having a successful ministry and confronting discouragement in ministry head on. If you honestly have sought to do God’s will for your life and He has placed you in a ministry that seems tough, trust that He has something for you in that ministry, no matter how difficult it may seem.
Fifth, learn to take time for yourself. Ministry is about giving 95% of the time, but we need to learn to take time for ourselves. If we give all the time, eventually we will find ourselves empty which will ultimately lead to discouragement. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Take your day off: unless you are bi-vocational, most likely you have some time off throughout the week. Be deliberate about this. Guard it like a valuable gem. I understand sometimes things will come up, but try to protect it as much as you can. Turn your phone off, leave the emails alone (unless they are for pleasure) and just rest. Do something you love and do it with all your heart. If you will, you’ll find yourself refreshed.
2. Get away occasionally/take a retreat: One “lifer” in youth ministry that I look up to is Mark Ostreicher, the president of Youth Specialties. Once a quarter he will take a 3 day silent retreat designed to refresh and relax him and gear him up for the next quarter. You may not be able to get away as often, but plan some purposeful time away. For me recently when I was battling my deep depression because of my discouragement in ministry I planned a vacation to Disney World. It may sound childish, but for me it was the first opportunity in a long time to get away, forget about difficulties and learn to laugh again. GET AWAY at some point each year.
3. Set clear boundaries for you and your family: Have a regular date night. There will always be people pulling at you for your time, however the person most important to you is your spouse. He/She can make or break your ministry so be deliberate about setting boundaries and guarding your time together. Do not let ministry get in the way of what is most important in your life. I was always taught to live be this mantra, “God first, family second, and the church third.”
Sixth don’t be afraid to write it down. Until I was faced with this very difficult time of depression and discouragement I wasn’t much of a person for journaling. Now I cannot live without it. Here are some thoughts about journaling that will help you as you work through this battle with discouragement:
1. Write about anything-I do not always write about the struggles I am having. I write about whatever is on my mind and I enjoy. I have become an addict of blogging as my personal way of journaling. One of the ways I battled this depression was to write about whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was spiritual, sometimes it was “fluff” such as who should stay and go on American Idol. Just write it down it clears your mind and might even begin to help you process the very thing you are struggling with.
2. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles. You don’t have to have it all put together. It is okay to struggle-share that with other people. It proves you are real and who knows, what you write may encourage someone else who is going through the same thing or it may spur someone on to pray for you
3. Don’t be afraid to share your victories. When God comes through for you or you find yourself encouraged, write it down. Tell someone. Share your joy with others. Just as before what you say may help someone else.
Finally, Commit to being in it for the long haul. This world is full of letdowns-Especially in the lives of young people. Many of the kids we work with come from broken home situations and generally just face bad stuff on a daily basis. We may be the only sense of normalcy they have, so if we give up just because we are discouraged, what hope do they have? God is in it for the long haul with us, so we need to be there for them as well. When we get discouraged- be real, rely on God and work through it. You’re not alone God is right there beside you and you will make it through it (and even learn something) if you don’t give up.

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