An Open Letter to the Tired, Discouraged Ministry Leader

Dear ministry leader,

I know it’s hard. (Try not to shake your head, roll your eyes and say, “You have no idea.”)

I may not understand your situation fully, but I have a concept.  I know what it feels like when God gives you a vision and it burns brightly inside of you.  You want to share it, no, you need to share it with everyone around you.  Your soul may as well be on fire, because that’s how you feel.  It’s a passion so consuming that it colors everything you say and do.  

If your soul is on fire, then your heart is drowning in unexplainable affection.  You desire good for your church in a way that doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes you want better and best for them before they want it for themselves.  Night and day, you feel the weight of their well-being sitting heavy on your chest.  When they succeed you rejoice as if their success is your own victory… And when they stumble you grieve as if their failing is your failing. 

For a moment, you have caught a shadowy glimpse of the heart of Jesus for His people. 

God gives us the burden of vision for His church, and because we are flawed and fallen beings we execute imperfectly.  We make mistakes.  In and through that very passion, a leader’s character sin is unearthed.  Inconsistencies and hypocrisies arise.  Vision can cause uncomfortable growth tensions, and divides where we seek to bring unity.  What we communicate isn’t well-received, or what we mean to say translates poorly.  In our failed attempts to ignite passion in others, we get discouraged.  And in our discouragement, we can fall into the traps of apathy or anger, insecurity or inconsistency.

When these things happen, it’s easy to slip into self-doubt and depreciation.  Did you truly hear from God, or was this self-concocted via excellent imagination?  “You stupid, ineffective leader.  So pushy, demanding and controlling.”

Leader, in these moments, putting general labels on yourself doesn’t help – “insecure,” “manipulative,” these terms are vague.  Our job as self and (more importantly) sin-aware Christians is to dig into the very specific core of our struggle.  Furthermore, our feelings and behavior are not our identity. In Christ, we are made new. (2 Cor. 5:17)  We are more than our sin.

Yet, as leaders, we have the added responsibility of keeping a watch on ourselves; guarding others against our own sin, even as we guide them through theirs. (James 3, 1 Tim. 3:16)  Pastors especially, God has laid on you the charge of managing yourself while you manage His church. (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:2) 

Thankfully, there is grace for that.  

We do not create vision and wield influence because we are so awesome.   Nor do we kill God’s mission because we are so terrible.  God is greater than our failures and successes; our gifts and our shortcomings.  Not even the impurest of motives is powerful enough to mess up the will of God—He will have His way in His church and the lives of His people. (Proverbs 19:21)

Granted, this does not mean that we should not hold ourselves to a higher standard because we must, leader.  But, it does mean that the unbearable weight of sin and pressure is off of us.  Every sin, then, becomes an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and reconciliation rather than a reason to rake yourself over hot coals, or dwell in condemnation. (Rom. 8:1)

I understand that things are hard. We have a real enemy. (1 Pet. 5:8)  That enemy is not ourselves or the people around us, and he has been playing this game a lot longer than the rest of us.   

Ministry sometimes feels like war, because sometimes it is.  Like in physical war, there are casualties.  Thankfully, in God’s kingdom, death is not final and miraculously can also lead to life. 

Leader, we must take heart.  In the discomfort and pain of growth, our saving grace will be to lean in to the great work of God.  We need to trust that our shortcomings, failures and difficulties are a gift; a grace to show us the mess underneath, around and inside of ourselves.  God’s purifying grace will cleanse us in the places we didn’t even realize were stained, but He does so that we might be made more like Him—so we can continue the work of bringing more people to Him. 

For His glory… However and to whomever he’s called us to.

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