Dear Discouraged Leader (Read This Before You Implode)

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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.

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.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to an online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.