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5 Honest Struggles Most Church Leaders Don’t Want To Admit

Most of us who get into full-time ministry do so because we sense a calling, not because it was a ‘career path’.

Chances are you got in this because you love God, deeply, right?

So it’s always a bit surprising and unusual then when ministry leaders find themselves struggling with the very God who called them into this in the first place. This is true whether you’re paid, bi-vocational or even a full-time volunteer.

Ministry can not only be hazardous to your spiritual health, it can be confusing.

But the good news is that struggling with God is normal. You are not alone.

The best leaders struggled with God.

Jacob wrestled an angel.

Moses almost quit more than a few times.

Jeremiah tried to quit but couldn’t.

Today’s struggles might be a bit different, but in some ways struggle is inevitable.

I personally have struggled with every one of the five challenges I outline in this post.  And what’s amazing to me is that you can get through them. You really can.

Sometimes all you need to know is you’re not alone. And you’re not, even if you feel that way.

Here are 5 ways ministry leaders struggle in their relationship with God:

1. You see setbacks in ministry as a personal statement from God about you

Hey, everybody thinks this way when life circumstances don’t tilt in their favor (why did God allow me to have cancer/lose this job/be in this place?). So it’s natural that this line of thinking would emerge in ministry.

Just because things aren’t going the way you want in ministry isn’t an automatic sign that God is angry with you. I’m always amazed that constant imprisonment didn’t cause Paul to second guess himself or God.

God isn’t always punishing you, even if it feels like he is.

The key is to take the setbacks in front of you seriously, not personally. You’ll be so much healthier.

2. You believe that greater faithfulness should result in greater impact in ministry 

Ever tried to improve your personal devotional life so your church would do better? Gosh, I wish this wasn’t true but in the early days of ministry, I really thought greater personal fervor would automatically translate into greater ministry impact.

I’m all for a rich personal walk with God, but it’s really not a push-this-button-and-God-will-do-great-things-through-you kind of proposition. In fact, it’s a bit self-centered to think that way.

Pursue God, and pursue a great mission. Both are critical. But God doesn’t reward the most faithful with the best results.

3. You are convinced God should protect you from pain 

So here’s a confession. Much of the pain I’ve experienced in ministry is self-induced. I have created crises in my mind and in relationships around me. The solution for me was to confess my sin and realize so much of the pain around me was caused by the strife within me.

As to the rest of the troubles that inevitably come our way? I seem to remember Jesus’ brother James saying we were supposed to throw a party when they come and celebrate because God uses them to perfect us.

God doesn’t always protect us from pain. He uses it to grow us. And the part that’s self-induced? Get on your knees.

4. You confuse your work life with your devotional life

I always ask myself “If I couldn’t do ministry tomorrow for whatever reason, what would be left of my life with Christ?” Hopefully, the answer is “lots” or “virtually everything”.

So my devotional life has little to do with what I’m teaching, and I try to pray about things I wouldn’t pray about if I wasn’t a pastor. But naturally, I also pray about things related to ministry.

Pretending you’re not a ministry leader in your relationship with God is a great way to stay vibrant as a ministry leader.

5. You find it hard to believe that God loves you simply because He loves you

Your identity is not based on what you do, but based on what Christ has done. I know you preach that, but you have a hard time believing it, don’t you?

Don’t confuse what you do with who you are in Christ. Need to hear that more clearly? I wrote this one for every leader who’s ever struggled through a Monday.

He loves you. He just does.

These are five struggles I’ve experienced and have to regularly check in my own life.

What are you discovering? Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve seen.

8 Comments

  1. Marcie Cramsey on July 14, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you for this article. As a former Children’s Minister and leader for many years, I’ve embarked on a new ministry (that’s self-funded) and it was a huge leap of faith. With that said, It’s so scary! #1 was encouraging to me, as it is taking a while to learn how to do the new ministry with success. Every once in awhile I have this “What the heck did I just do?!” Right now the start of this new ministry is a struggle and I’m trying to look up rather than down – staying focused what God called. But I fight the temptation to think that I’m not doing it right, or God is not pleased or whatever else I can muster up to worry about. Thanks for your comment and reminder about Paul, “I’m always amazed that constant imprisonment didn’t cause Paul to second guess himself or God.” Needed that truth nugget!

  2. Heath Tibbetts on July 11, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Lots of great stuff in here, but not sure if I fully agree with point #2. Doug Fields once wrote, “The spiritual health of your church ministry will never exceed your own spiritual health.” I have found that to be true, that as I am more diligent in my times of personal devotion that my church is blessed and that others are challenged to that same transformation. Perhaps you’re saying that the act of devotion doesn’t “make” my church better, but would you agree that it “makes” me better and leads to strengthening in my church?

  3. Tim on July 10, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Wow, great to hear. Thanks.

  4. Bruce Van Sickle on July 8, 2017 at 8:14 am

    I just signed up to get these.
    All points are great and needed reminders.
    Thank you!

  5. Steven Sullivan on July 7, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for the article. I struggle on a constant basis with #1 and #2. I always feel that I’m not doing enough–and forget that it is God who builds His church (Psalm 127:1)! I would like some insight or information about retention. We have discipleship classes and we have created a culture in our church to make people feel cared for–to create new friendships, etc. But all too often, once someone goes through a “salvation experience,” they seem to just fall off of the map. We have follow up, phone calls, emails, social activities, ministry involvement and multiple growth classes–everything that church growth classes teach and following growth aspects of the Acts church–but very little retention. Frustrated and need help or just a shoulder to cry on!! God bless

  6. Eric on July 7, 2017 at 5:30 am

    I really struggle with #4 and #5. Thanks for sharing this. I needed the reminder.

  7. Chuck on July 6, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    #5 is one of the hardest that I keep having to re-learn over and over. From Bible stories to Disney films, that truism pops up everywhere.

  8. Dean on July 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Thank you for sharing your insights. I’m really struggling with number#1. I’ve gone through some set backs over the last few years. When I was a youth pastor, I saw huge ministry impact and results. Since planting a church four years ago, I’m still struggling with gaining traction.

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