Every ministry is different, with unique stories, successes, challenges, and goals. You may be reading this article as a minister to adults, to students, a worship leader, a volunteer youth sponsor, a small groups leader, a Sunday School teacher, or maybe something entirely different.
But there is one common thread that runs through every single ministry. Discouragement is something that every single person in ministry has experienced at some point or another. For me as a Youth Minister, there are a number of times I have experienced discouragement, and maybe you can relate. When you pour your heart into your lesson for youth group, but the homecoming dance draws most of your students away. When you are criticized by one of your youth leaders or an elder for a decision you made. When a student shares their home life with you, and it breaks your heart. When a parent rakes you over the coals for something petty or ridiculous.
All of these things can begin to chip away at your joy and make you question your calling. So, when discouragement hits, here are some important things to remember.
1. Remember your audience
Leadership always draws criticism. When you are the leader, someone will disagree with you. You will never please everyone, nor should you try. Rest in knowing that your audience is God alone, and pleasing Him is the ONLY thing you should be concerned with. When Noah built a boat by God’s command, he was mocked and ridiculed. Then the rain fell. When Nehemiah and Ezra set out to rebuild Jerusalem, they faced severe opposition. They stood in the gap anyway. When David, by every possible measure, was outmatched and outmanned, he picked up 5 stones. Be the best leader possible by being the best follower possible.
2. Remember your calling
If you are in ministry full-time, then you, at some point, felt the compulsion of the Holy Spirit guiding your life into this adventure. Don’t abandon the call of leadership so quickly. Trust in the leadership qualities that God trusted in when He called you. And remember 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”
3. Remember your charge
In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul writes to his young student Timothy – “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” Paul knew Timothy would face discouragement and frustration. He wanted Timothy to be ready and eager to defend the faith, to stand up for the Gospel, and to lead passionately. He wanted Timothy to have a goal when everything went wrong. He wanted Timothy to forge ahead and not shrink back in tough situations. You, likewise, have been charged. Lead passionately and boldly.
4. Remember you are a servant
Yes, you are called to lead, and your audience is God alone. But true leaders understand that they can be wrong from time to time. And true leaders admit when they are wrong, and work to rectify it. When discouragement hits, pray humbly and listen openly to God’s direction. If there is any way that you can turn the situation around, even if it means apologizing or admitting you made a poor decision, do it. In the long run, you will gain a lot of credibility by owning up, taking the high road, and choosing joy in the midst of discouragement. Romans 12:18 reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
5. Remember you are not alone
God never calls without equipping. God never leads with going with us. And when everything seems to be falling apart, God never forsakes us. We recently studied the faithfulness of God in exile, and it’s remarkable to me how God always protects, always watches over, and always loves His people in the midst of their pain. Psalm 89:8 says, “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you.”
What do you do when you are faced with discouragement?