Dear Discouraged  Leader,

Being a leader (especially a church leader) is not the easiest thing in the world. But it isn’t the hardest thing in the world either.

You’re not alone. Leadership is hard at times. In fact, if you’re really leading, there’s rarely a season that isn’t filled with challenges.

After seeing leader after leader struggle with discouragement and even quit before their calling ran out, I wanted to write this note.

dear discouraged leader

I’ve adapted this note from a post my good friend Casey Graham wrote to discouraged business owners. Seems church leaders and business owners might have a lot in common. It resonated so much I wanted to ensure that every discouraged church leader I know read it. (And you should read Casey’s stuff by the way.)

Bottom line: I feel you.

None of us really feel like the most successful person on earth. I don’t. You don’t. And even though our church is doing well at the moment and I have so much to be thankful for, I spend too many days wondering whether I’m missing something or feeling like we should be making more progress than we should.

You know what it’s like… The weight of:

  • Budget and expenses
  • People who promise the moon but never even deliver the earth
  • New people who say they’re in and then walk away
  • Your leadership feeling like it’s always under a microscope
  • Not being where you thought you would be at this point in your leadership or life
  • Uncertainty. Constant uncertainty.
  • Team members you’re struggling with and just don’t know how to deal with
  • Knowing your organization isn’t perfect and wishing it would be but knowing it won’t ever be
  • Lack of gratitude; in others and in you
  • Feeling let down by others
  • You letting yourself down
  • Seeing other people’s organizations & speaking & believing they have it easier than you do
  • And on and on and on it goes…

This is the side of church leadership they never teach you in seminary.

So I want you to know something.  The discouragement you feel inside is real & coming from somewhere. Think about this and let this sink in for a while today;

“The happiest & healthiest people are those whose expectations meet reality.”

What do you do with that?

Here are four questions every discouraged church leader would benefit from asking themselves:

 

1. What do I expect my organization to give me? 

No organization will ever give you ultimate peace, fulfillment, joy, purpose, or anything like that. Not even a church.  If you are expecting that from being a leader, you won’t find it.

If you are constantly discouraged or frustrated about your organization, it might be because you are hoping it will give you something only God can give you.

 

2. Who am I trying to please? 

You will never please your employees or the people you serve fully.  It’s impossible because we are imperfect people & they are as well.

If you are trying to please other church leader or get recognized, you will be miserable.  You can never keep up with anyone else’s expectations. And you’ll let yourself, your family and ultimately God down.

 

3. How honest am I being with myself & others? 

If you stuff your leadership failures & missed expectations instead of dealing with them, you will implode or explode one day.  Your discouragement & mine often comes from stuffing things we should just admit and deal with.

If you have a problem with another person, be completely honest with them.  If you are mad at somebody, tell them.  If somebody let you down, let them now.  If you have let yourself down, tell a friend.  Lying and pretending leads to misery.  Just say it. I have done this numerous times and it’s terrible up front but so freeing in the end. And you know what? Much of the time you end up saving the relationship.

This is why I hire coaches & go to a professional counselor (just like my friend Casey).  If I didn’t, I would burn out & implode.  Truth: I wouldn’t be in ministry any more. 

 

4. What lie am I believing? 

Gurus make it seem so easy don’t they? Go to their conference or buy their product and all your problems disappear. Did you ever buy into that lie at some point?

Chances are you thought leadership would be easier. Well, that’s just a lie.  Identify the lie you are believing & you will crush some of the discouragement.  The lie that marketers sell you is really killing your spirit. We only need to look at the scripture to discover that leadership was rarely easy.

Your discouragement isn’t just discouragement.  It’s a symptom of something deeper going on.  If you want to create a healthy culture in your church, you can’t live mad all the time.  You can’t be frustrated 24/7.  Take a step today & answer these questions honestly.

I believe it will help you beat your discouragement & get back on the growth track.

So tell me, have you ever been discouraged as a leader or (or are Casey and I the only ones?). How have you dealt with it? 

15 Comments

  1. J.E Cook on October 22, 2020 at 5:47 am

    Excellent insight. I stepped down from church leadership 14 years ago after a very painful abusive situation. Your article shows incredible insight and gives me hope to try again. Thank you

  2. Dan McGowan on February 19, 2019 at 8:38 am

    God had me read this today, after a very discouraging ministry meeting last night. We humans make the journey so miserable at times. Thanks for the insight in this article.

  3. Mimi J'adore on June 13, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    I’m so happy I read this! Thank i need to reevaluate my leadership position and crush he discouragement.

  4. Emily Bristol on August 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful and encouraging post. I was very upset last night and today and utterly discouraged and I feel so much better knowing that I am not alone in my struggle. Thank you for your honesty and transparency.

  5. […] Graham wrote to discouraged business owners.  I also adapted a version to church leaders on my personal blog. Seems parents,  leaders, business owners might have a lot in […]

  6. Jason Chenoweth on January 6, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Carey,

    I read this now, a month after you posted it, but I needed it today. I was on my knees in my office this morning praying over these very things. We know these things as leaders, but our sin and brokenness just pushes them down and buries them under the other voices. I so appreciate your willingness to share on this, and consider you a brother and a friend at a distance. Thanks for continuing to write and pour out what God is doing in you. I’m on a parallel path, and your words always encourage me. Thanks for the sacrifice!

    BTW, who is the quote on expectations from?

  7. Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud on December 18, 2013 at 7:51 am

    […] Church leadership leaving you discouraged at year’s end? Here are four simple questions to ask yourself. […]

  8. Nicole on December 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Carey, our staff went through a tough time awhile ago. One staff member had to take a step back for awhile and their work was divided among the rest of us. When I first heard about it, I was excited to have a new challenge, and for most of the time that they were gone it wasn’t too bad. Now, that situation is over, I have had a hard time picking up the pieces. It has been three weeks and I have yet to find my motivation to do any work. I’m not excited to come to work (which is unusual) and I find myself wanting to go home early. At first, I thought it was just a “recovery” period but now I’m not too sure, because of the length of it. Any advice?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      Nicole…sorry to be so late in responding. December’s been a full month with Christmas coming up and all. It’s hard to say what it is, but I would encourage you to talk about it with a few trusted wise friends and maybe even a Christian counsellor. They may have some good advice.

  9. Clif McKinley on December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I don’t know a leader who doesn’t land here. I feel like I live in the tension between what is & what I know could be. I know God can do great things in & through my church but His measure of greatness & mine often don’t match up. We measure success by the size of the building, the number of people who show up each week, how much the offering was. While these are all indicators of some kind of success it’s not the ultimate measuring stick. We see mega churches growing & local churches shrinking and we get discouraged & frustrated & we all do. We know God calls us to different ministries & He only gives us the ministry He can trust us with. So when I get discouraged about they things listed, and I do, sometimes too often I am ashamed to admit, I have to remember Kingdom success is about changed lives, people meeting Jesus and if I have won at least one this year, if I have helped someone grow closer this year, if I have helped grow one this year, that is success. I may never pastor a mega church, my name will probably never be know in ministerial circles, I probably not getting ivied to speak at Catalyst anytime soon, but God hasn’t called me to that. He has called me to be faithful in the what He has entrusted me with. And though I may get discouraged & frustrated I must remind myself that HE CALLED ME and He never promised it would be easy, but I haven’t had to suffer or sacrifice like so many others that have gone before. I think we need realistic expectations of what God has called us to do & faith to believe He will use us in greater ways than we can imagine. Yes, I wrestle with discouragement, but I have to remind myself, “He who began a good work in me with be faithful to complete it.” And as I like to paraphrase Galatians 2:20 “Dead men have no rights” I said yes to the call and sometimes it sucks, but I just need to refocus my eyes on Jesus and press on. Thanks for the post Carey.

  10. Brent Dumler on December 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Carey, something you said hit me. You stated that you ‘spend too many days wondering whether you’re missing something.’ Not only can I relate, but this can be both a sign of health and illness. On one hand, the fact that we are constantly cognitive of all that is going on in the Church and with genuine concern must reveal to God our hearts for his people and work. I think this makes him smile. On the other hand, we can take this too far. That’s when we allow worry and fear to creep in. When this happens our faith and dependence in God shrinks as we look more at our own independent leadership. Thanks for this post and the reminder.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 12, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      So true Brent. Thank you so much for sharing that. Great insights!

  11. Lawrence W. Wilson on December 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Great questions, Carey. I think #1 is the most powerful, for me anyway. Also, I’ve found this to be a cyclical, even seasonal, pattern with me. One of my strategies for dealing with discouragement is to ignore it until the sun comes out.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      It’s so good to identify the seasons patterns. So many leaders can relate to that.

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