Every pastor has felt it, faced it, even succumbed to it: discouragement.
When thoughts go through your mind: Why aren’t I better? Why isn’t this working? Is the God I claim to serve even real? I’ve had it, my colleagues have had it, I’ll probably even have it in the future.
In light of that reality, here are five (or six) ways I’ve found to battle clergy discouragement so that it doesn’t lead to clergy departure:
1. Go to work the next morning. At Good Shepherd, we talk about taking massively small steps to personal health and spiritual maturity. When you face discouragement, get up, write the next sermon, make the next visit, knock on the next door. It’s not sexy, but it is reliable.
2. Celebrate victories. This past Sunday is a case in point. I didn’t feel great about my message — the delivery didn’t measure up to the preparation, and I wasn’t sure the point was clear. It also took awhile to get where it was going. On top of that, I received some impromptu — and quite odd — “feedback” from a second time guest. Discouraging, all. And yet I have to take the time to remember the (many) people who told me that the message was EXACTLY what they needed to hear on that day.
3. Repeat the Gospel to yourself every day. Here’s what I say: “I’m so messed up that the cross is what it took and so loved that the cross is what he did.”
4. Remember that worse things have happened to better preachers.
5. Get in therapy/support group/ LIfeGroup. No one can walk through valleys of the shadow of death alone. Especially preachers. I’ve had all kinds of helpers on my journey, thank God.
6. Attempt something bold. In clergy discouragement, the great temptation is to withdraw, focus on the church, and turn some angry people into happy ones. That’s the worst thing a preacher can do. The best way OUT of discouragement is a major step INTO boldness. Several years ago, when I and the church were in a season of uncertainty and malaise we did our first ever Radical Impact Project (though we didn’t have that name yet): we held a Not For Sale Sunday in 2007 and gave away $84,000 to the International Justice Mission. That started a movement we’re glad to continue.