To stay in the ministry any length of time, a pastor needs to learn to fight some predictable demons.
For instance, Monday mornings for pastors and spiritual leaders are unique. They bring with them an adrenaline crash that feels like you got hit by a train (emotionally) during the night. Sunday’s expenditure of energy—physically, spiritually, emotionally and relationally—lands on Monday morning with reflections that are both good and bad, positive and negative.
On one hand, there are the great takeaways of a day of worship—the afterglow of the corporate worship, the encouragement of Christian fellowship, the warmth of the church body being together. There’s reminiscing upon decisions that were made, people that came to Jesus, and new guests that you met and pray will grow in grace. There’s the reflection upon the powerful word of God that was studied together and the ways it shaped your heart. It’s good having been in church with God’s family.
In all of this, the heart smiles.
On the other hand, the depleted reservoir of physical, emotional, spiritual and relational energy can play games with your head. The “Monday morning crash” can instigate an internal conversation that is despairing. You can begin to rehearse the sermon—regretting the stuttering, the struggle to find the right words. You can second guess every phrase, illustration and application. You seem to only recall the things you wish you hadn’t said or that you would rephrase or say differently. You can only focus on the moment you made such a dork of yourself. You replay the message in your head. Should it have been shorter or longer? Should I have said…? You really wish you could rewind and try all over again.
In this, the heart almost never smiles.
Recently, I asked a group of long-time pastors about their greatest struggles over the years and how they remained joyful and faithful in their call. One man very transparently and insightfully said, “I think the hardest part of this call is feeling most days like I’m a failure.” He indicated during the conversation that nearly every week of his more than 30 years as a pastor, he felt as though he was failing. Obviously, his faithfulness was not tied to the perception of success or measurable, visible fruit in ministry.
Ironically, this man leads a healthy church, has a wonderful testimony, enjoys a broad influence and has faithfully served his Saviour for many decades. He is a walking success story. Yet, personally he experiences an internal conversation—an incriminating narrative that works against him—“demons.” Those “demons” tell him he is not successful and work daily to drag his emotions into feelings of failure.
I was grateful for this man’s transparency—primarily because I identified with it! I believe most pastors have this same experience because we are engaged in a spiritual/soul kind of work that is hard to measure and even harder to fully understand. The reward of our labor will only be clearly seen in eternity, and until then, the harvest from the seeds we sow and cultivate isn’t always clearly seen.
This story, and others like it, provoked me to make a short list of “demons” that I and most (if not all) pastors fight. For me, identifying the lie is 99 percent of the battle! Here is my short list. What would you add?
Inspection—We try to look at our daily work and see fruit. It’s never as visible up close as it is looking back over many years. Therefore, the immediate, up-close inspection tends to be discouraging, which leads to… (Galatians 6:9)
Introspection—This is deeper than “inspection” in that it begins to question the validity of our work and ministry. We start to entertain questions like: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Does anything I’m doing make any difference?” “Is there any growth from my preaching and preparation?” Introspection becomes… (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Deception—If I entertain the doubts for very long, they become accusations and lies. They begin to feel substantive. The doubts begin to set, like drying concrete—they metastasize into hardened, heart-shaping conclusions like, “I am failing. I am not effective. I should quit now. I should try something else.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Expectation—This is the parent of ministry disappointment. Expectation is “what I thought God would do” or “what I thought I deserved” or “how I pictured everything unfolding.” Expectations unrealized give birth to disappointment and despair. Our script isn’t unfolding the way we wrote it; therefore, we are disappointed. Surrendering to God means surrendering expectations and resting in His outcomes. (Hebrews 6:15)
Isolation—All of these previous experiences mount up internally to assault the soul, and the typical response is isolation. This is where I go when all the other demons begin to get the best of me. Despair leads to self-pity which causes me to pull away from people and lick my wounds in self-segregation and seclusion. By the way, this is not the same as healthy, soul-nurturing solitude. Being alone with God is a wonderful thing. Being alone in self-pity is destructive and oppressive. (Psalm 73)