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.
Modern struggles might be a bit different, but in some ways struggle in 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 favour (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 into 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. In fact, as Andy Stanley says, when it feels like God is doing something to you, he might be doing something in you so he can do something through you.
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 fervour 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.