When ministry hurts

By Michael Cooper

Struggles in ministry and the goodness of the gospel

Here is the honest truth: From February 2018 to March 2019, I experienced probably the most difficult time in 13 years of ministry. It began by asking for a resignation from someone on staff and ended with me questioning my call to ministry.

It seemed as if one trial after another continued to pile on top of each other. Having people lie about you, question your integrity, and challenge your leadership wears you down. The weight of each counseling session grieved me.

Inevitability I entered into a dark depression because of anxiety. The tears stopped flowing and I became numb. The prescription Xanax didn’t seem to work and my prayers bounced off the ceiling. I lost weight. I was hurt spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

On the other side of that “valley of the shadow of death,” I can speak openly about the season of struggle. In this short article, I want to recount six bits of personal and practical advice on how you can walk through various struggles in ministry.

1. Take a break

Take a step back and open your eyes. Often, as pastors we get so focused on the things we have to do that we forget all God has done. I would encourage you to sit down with your leadership team and discuss taking a break. Whether it is a vacation, sabbatical, or a weekend get-away, it is important to rest. As I read the gospels, I find our Lord constantly taking time away from the grind of ministry. If Jesus himself took routine breaks, we need to as well. Practically, you need a day a rest. You aren’t Super Pastor. You’re not a machine. You are a broken human in need of grace. A regular routine of Sabbath declares that God is God and we are not. In His wisdom, He instituted a day of rest, so let’s obey His Word.

2. Don’t take it to the extreme

There will be various issues in ministry that require intense spiritual and mental energy. But not every issue needs the same amount of energy. Determining how much energy to exert is important so you don’t take every issue to the extreme. Basically, don’t blow every issue out of proportion. Struggles are part of ministry. Pain will come. But a helpful way to guard against overwhelming struggle is to evaluate every issue and determine how “serious” it is. Play the “long game” by looking at each issue in light of eternity.

3. Give ministry away

Yes, you read that right. Give ministry away to people. Don’t micro-manage. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Look to people to help you serve the people of God. You don’t need to edit every single sermon clip. You can’t realistically visit or call every single member. Train people up to help you.

4. Submit yourself to authority

Find a pastor you can confide in. Let him preach the gospel to you. You are not alone. You are not the only one experiencing struggles. Submit yourself to the spiritual authority of a man you trust, a man who loves you. Do this not because you are a pastor, but because you are a Christian. Every pastor needs a pastor — a real pastor. Not just the podcasts you listen to on Monday. A brother you can text, call, and meet. I am thankful for my pastor, Paul Garcia. He has heard me complain. He has helped me interpret my confusion.

5. Take care of yourself

Go to the doctor and get a physical. Work out and try to eat better. Take care of your mental and physical health. The struggles can wear you down mentally and physically. Get outside and plant a garden. Kick the soccer ball with your kids. Read a book that is not ministry related. Be self-aware. A helpful way to take care of yourself is to evaluate your priorities. Don’t love the church more than your family. Be a husband and dad before you are a pastor.

6. Walk with Jesus

You need Jesus. Let Him comfort you in the struggle. Brother, experience His presence in the valley. Hear His voice through His Word. Pray, lament, and praise Him. Just worship Him for who He is – your Savior. Remember: He loved you before you were called to a church. You are a sinner in need of grace. Don’t get over the gospel.

The struggles will come. Suffering will arrive. But, brother, please know that it will pass. After you walk through the valley and experience a season of favor, you’ll be able to see God working in the midst of the pain.

In that we can say, “His rod and staff comforted me.”,

Published October 4, 2019

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Michael Cooper