Life is emotional. But if you’re in church leadership, it feels like it’s even a little more emotional.
As in, crazy-emotional-roller-coaster emotional.
That’s true even if you think of yourself as more rational than emotional. Sometimes you get surprised by how intense ministry is. I started out in my 20s as a lawyer, so emotion wasn’t really a huge part of my wiring.
But within a few years of beginning ministry, I realized that if I didn’t figure out how to navigate the emotions of ministry, I probably wouldn’t make it in the long run.
And looking back on my time in ministry so far, I can honestly say the biggest crises I’ve had to navigate have not been spiritual or vocational nearly as much as they’ve been emotional.
What I mean by that is I didn’t know how to emotionally cope with the demands of my calling. And, sadly, if you can’t emotionally cope with the demands of your calling, you’ll likely abandon it. Not because you want to, but because you can’t figure out a way to make it work anymore.
My biggest challenges for both paid staff and volunteers seem to involve handling the pressures, challenges and criticism of ministry.
So, to that end: Why is ministry so emotional for so many?
Here’s my theory. Ministry combines three areas of life that are intensely personal:
And your community
Because of that, it gets confusing.
What you do is what you believe.
What you believe is what you do.
Your friends are also the people you serve and lead.
Throw your family into the mix (because they believe what you believe and are friends with the people you/they lead and serve) and bam—it’s even more confusing.
Because of this, things that normally happen at work very seldom stay at work.
Here are three common pitfalls many ministry leaders struggle with:
1. Disagreements at Home
You and your spouse end up arguing about being out ‘one more night’ at a meeting or event.
But because ‘what you do is what you believe’ you feel that staying home is somehow being ‘unfaithful’ to God.
Cue perpetual conflict right there…unless you figure out how to stop it.
2. Taking Criticism Personally
You get an email or comment criticizing something you said in a message, and you’re really bothered by it. It’s more troubling because you’re not sure whether it means you’ve somehow failed God, not just your employer.
And then guess what? You bring that home to your spouse, who also loves God.
Repeat that pattern multiple times and your spouse can end up resenting the very place that’s supposed to be her spiritual home and the spiritual home of your kids.
Church leaders should take criticism seriously, but not personally. Still, that’s easier said than done.
One of the worst forms of hurt can come when someone you consider to be a friend becomes a critic of your ministry. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and it hurts deeply. When people you share your life with quietly (or not so quietly) start to work against you, it’s very difficult to navigate.
If you don’t navigate these issues well, here’s what can happen as a result.
begin to resent the church you serve
have no idea how to navigate a personal life in the vortex of ministry
stop trusting people
dream of getting out of ministry on your bad days
build up a resentment you’re not sure how to get rid of
You probably think only the way to get off the emotional roller coaster of ministry is to quit.
You don’t have to abandon your calling, even though we live in an age where many do. It’s so tragic, because there is a way to survive, and even thrive.
Believe it or not, there is a way to stay in ministry and not engage all of the emotional twists and turns that leave so many leaders wrung out.
Knowing the reason why ministry is emotional is half the battle, but the other half is about practices you follow to stay healthy.