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Lessons From My Season of Discouragement in Ministry

[The Christmas push for pastors can easily lead to a post-Christmas emotional let-down, a sort of post-adrenaline low. Combine this with the challenges of a new year and, in some regions, seasonal depression with gray days, and January can be a tough month for ministers. If any of that describes you, take heart in this note of encouragement from another pastor who has felt the same things.]

As a pastor, I have had two seasons during which I nearly gave up. In the first, it was my physical health—the diagnosis of a rare medical condition—that nearly took me out of the race.

The more difficult patch of discouragement, however, followed my most productive year of ministry. November of that year started an emotional low that lasted into February of the following year.

Ironically, God had allowed me to hit a number of high goals. My relationship with God was right; my motives were right. My family was healthy. Fruit was exploding all over the place, and I was morally pure. So I was baffled and confused as to why I felt deeply depressed and discouraged, to the point of barely being able to get out of bed.

That patch did not end in a matter of days, but rather of months. I was a senior pastor at the time. I had healthy staff and elders with whom I could share anything. And yet, I felt like Asaph in Psalm 73, when he is so discouraged he writes, “If I had spoken thus, I would have betrayed your children.” Translation: My thoughts and feelings are so discouraging, I don’t want to bring anyone else down with me. So, as a leader, I won’t share them and drag the group down.

I did share my fatigue and emptiness with my wife. She watched me get on my knees, night after night, during that stretch. Here are two lessons I learned in that dark night. Lessons I believe have saved the longevity of my ministry. I pass them along in hopes that they inject life and longevity into you and your ministry, too.

1. The Need for Personal Domain

During my four-month depression, God brought a book into my life, titled Living the Life You Were Meant to Live. Turns out the book’s author, Tom Paterson, coached Rick Warren before Purpose Driven was even written.

I began reading Living the Life You Were Meant to Live with a bit of suspicion. But, what I found was a scripturally-robust argument that changed my view of self and ministry. Paterson describes five domains of life: