According to Brian Croft, founder of Practical Shepherding, the above-normal challenges, difficulties and stressors COVID-19 has caused is prompting some pastors to quit ministry and even some churches to split. Lifeway Research reported in August 2020 that pastors’ top concerns were maintaining unity (27%), pastoral care from a distance (17%), the safety and well-being of members (13%), personal exhaustion (12%) and wisdom and direction (12%).
A year of constant decision making, enduring harsh criticism for doing too much or not doing enough to address coronavirus issues, the social movements of 2020 and the political culture have left many pastors exhausted, stressed out and crippled by decision fatigue.
Yet, despite the challenges every church has faced, God has brought some great things from the past year of crisis. Salvation has come. Families rediscovered each other by spending more time together. Ministries were forced to be innovative and define essentials. Some churches thrived. Some dying churches were revitalized. But even though God has moved, there’s a pretty good chance, as a pastor, you’ve thought about leaving the ministry.
The purpose of this article isn’t to complain, fuel a sense of defeatism or lament the difficulties of pastoral ministry. The purpose of this article is to keep you in the trenches of pastoral ministry.
I must confess, though, when I began writing this article, all the pressure of the past year crashed down upon me. I entered into the deepest and darkest night of my soul. I put off submitting this article simply because I was convinced that because I was so discouraged, anything I had to say was meaningless.
But God is faithful. I’m still in ministry, and more importantly, my family is intact. I needed to relearn some fundamental truths to avoid being a statistic. I want to remind you of three biblical priorities vital to endure in times of difficulty and remain in ministry.
1. You are not alone
First, you are not alone. Loneliness is a tool of the enemy. An instrument that can drain your heart and, like cancer, slowly eat away at you. Lifeway Research indicates 55% of pastors say their ministry makes them feel lonely. Loneliness is a serious issue that, if left unaddressed, can convince you that even God has forsaken you.
Elijah felt alone (1 Kings 19:10). His legitimate feelings of isolation pushed him to believe he was without hope. In these verses Elijah reveals his heart; then the Lord reveals His.
When you feel alone and stressed out, it is easy to convince yourself no one understands you and no one will ever understand what you’re enduring. These are the moments you need to pause and ask yourself as the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here? Where are you? What is happening? How did you get to where you are?”
An internal checkup gives voice to the feelings that are attempting to rule your life.
The Lord also reminds Elijah he isn’t alone. God gives Elijah a list of specific people to see and tells him there are 7,000 faithful in Israel—thousands Elijah knows nothing about.
One of the joys of being in a network of churches—in whichever denominational tribe you ascribe to—is the reality that you are not alone. There may be hundreds of miles between you and the next pastor, but with one phone call or one text message, you have quick access to someone.
The isolation of pastoral ministry can be draining. There are many days when you may feel that no one gets it, that no one understands. You need to remember you are never alone.
2. You Need a Titus
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:6, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the arrival of Titus.” God providentially orchestrated the arrival of Titus to be an encourager of Paul and those with him. Notice clearly in the passage what Titus did to encourage them: He showed up.
Titus didn’t show up with wisdom, a new ministry position nor anything else you pray for in your times of discouragement. He showed up. Often the greatest gift we can receive and be for others is showing up. The ministry of presence can press back discouragement.
When you are discouraged, downhearted and thinking of walking away from ministry, you need a Titus in your life to show up. To talk to. To linger with. To have coffee. To share frustrations. You need a Titus.
You may, though, need to seek out a Titus. Your Titus should have a little more experience than you, by age or by years of service, in pastoral ministry.
Your Titus should be present and for you. Someone you can trust. Someone who will give you counsel when needed. Someone who will know the difference between listening and giving unsolicited advice.
Not only should you find a Titus, but you should be a Titus. Seek out others to encourage. Send handwritten notes of encouragement. Drop a text to let them know you are praying for them. When you make an effort to be an encourager, you will find yourself encouraged as well.
3. Schedule and take Sabbath
Lastly, take some time off. Saying, “This ministry cannot survive without me” puts you in a dangerous place. When a pastor thinks they’re indispensable, they never rest. They place themselves in the position in the church where only Jesus belongs. If you want to thrive in ministry, you must take time away.
Your church members may not understand that getting away and resting is critical. That’s okay. They don’t have to understand. You still need to take time off for your sake and theirs (Heb. 13:17).
To stay in ministry, you need to take regular sabbath rests. You need to take time away to remind yourself that you’re human. You need to rest. You need to eat good food. If you’re married, keep the flame kindled. If you have children, you need to laugh and be goofy with them. As a pastor who has long since gone home once told me, “You are the pastor for a season. You are your wife’s husband and children’s father for life.” If you don’t carve out time for them, you won’t have your family or your church.
In the past several months, God has reminded me what He has reminded hundreds—if not thousands—of others before me: I am not alone. He is with me. He has brought people into my life who are for me. He has given me all I need, including time to rest.
When—not if—you get discouraged, don’t give up. You’re not alone.
This post originally appeared at LifeWay Research.
Published May 13, 2021