5 Roadblocks That Make You Miserable In Ministry (And How To Avoid Them)
In our work as Executive Search Consultants, we have the privilege of talking with hundreds of pastors from all over the country and hearing their stories. While many are in thriving ministries and are excited about their future, almost all of them will talk of a time in ministry that was more drudgery than joy.
There are the usual challenges of ministry that wear us down (Sunday comes every week, Christmas and Easter come every year, concerns about making budget, etc.), but when we dig a little deeper, we inevitably discover these common issues that suck the life out of us, steal our joy, and simply make us miserable.
1. People Pleasing
In ministry, we not only work for the “audience of one,” we also work for the people God has called us to serve. When I began my ministry fresh out of seminary, I felt an acute sense of my own inadequacy. Not only was I young (congregation members would tell me that I reminded them of their children), but I was also relatively inexperienced.
As I grew older, I never fully got past the desire to seek the approval of the people I was called to lead. Every sermon was an opportunity for people to give me thumbs up or thumbs down, so I would agonize over every message. Tough decisions were opportunities for people to vote on my leadership ability. It sucked the life out of me.
Gradually, through a lot of prayer and support of close friends, I was able to shift my concerns about what people might think of me to what God was calling me to say and do. I often preached at the church plant that I attended. For the first time, I felt the freedom to simply speak the truth in love and let God be responsible for the results, and his “well done” became enough.
It’s true that excellence is a wonderful value for organizations to embrace. However, it’s all too easy to slip into an unhealthy drive for perfection. Instead of focusing on internal impact (which is God’s department and largely out of our control), we focus on those external things that we can control – the wording of our messages, the placement of greeters, and the perfect background for the worship set. But perfectionism is a never-ending pursuit that will ultimately make you and those around you miserable.
How do you avoid it? I have a friend in ministry who makes it his policy to knowingly make one mistake a day just to remind him that while excellence is a worthy goal, perfection is not.
3. Unrealistic Expectations
Disappointment is the gap between our expectations and reality. I am a big fan of setting BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). They can often spur an organization to strive to achieve something great for the Kingdom that they might not otherwise accomplish.
That said, leaders will often set goals and expectations for themselves and their organization that they simply do not have the capacity or resources to achieve. They are not anchored in reality and thus are frustrated and disappointed when those goals are not met.
Simply setting a BHAG is great, but it needs to be rooted in a realistic plan to achieve that goal in a reasonable amount of time with resources that can readily be put into play.
Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and when we fail to live up to them, we can spiral into disappointment. In those moments, it’s important to remember that God is never disappointed in us. His expectations of us are entirely rooted in the reality of who we are.
4. Going It Alone
It really is “lonely at the top.” Leaders feel the weight not only of organizational success but also the well being of the people who serve alongside them. They have the normal challenges and frailty that every human has, but they often have no one to talk with about it. They don’t want to burden their church staff members and direct reports with their anxieties or concerns. They understand instinctively that their supervisor or board will have a hard time hearing about personal struggles because they are responsible for the health of the larger organization.
When we feel overwhelmed with responsibility, it’s often our natural inclination to isolate ourselves. However, this often ends up making decisions that can negatively impact ourselves, the people we care about, and the organization we serve.
The solution to this is to identify a few close friends outside of your organization whom you trust and seek out a confidential mentoring relationship. In my last church where I attended, I had no official role at the church, but regularly met with key staff members just to be a sounding board for personal or leadership decisions, knowing that whatever they said to me would be met with grace and would never go any farther.
5. Losing sight of the goal
One of the quickest ways to misery in ministry is to lose sight of why we started down this path in the first place – our love of Jesus and the desire to serve him with all that we are. We focus on leadership skills, mechanics of ministry, and strategic planning processes and neglect the nurture of our souls.
Lance Witt shared his advice on overcoming ministry burnout in his interview with my colleague Holly Tate. I encourage you to take his advice to heart as you seek to remember your calling and pursue a healthy soul.
What struggles have made you miserable in ministry? What are your solutions to facing ministry burnout?