What to Do When Your Ministry Feels Like a Failure – Part 1

What do you do when you don’t see any fruit in your ministry? We all face this from time to time. You could be leading a small group, ministry, church, family, or whatever, or perhaps you’re simply trying to lead that family member or friend to Christ, and you’re not seeing any movement. No successes. No wins. In fact, you may be experiencing just the opposite. Your ministry or group or family or friend is moving in the wrong direction, and it just doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. This can, of course, be extremely discouraging and disappointing, can’t it? Some have left the ministry because of it. And that is very sad.

The prophet Isaiah would know just what you are feeling. In fact, many of God’s servants experienced this. Think about Moses in the wilderness, Nehemiah at certain stages in building the Jerusalem wall, pretty much all the prophets, Jesus with his disciples, Paul in some of the churches he planted. But today, I just want to focus on Isaiah. Just after God called him and sent him, the Lord said,

“Yes, go. But tell my people this: `You will hear my words, but you will not understand. You will see what I do, but you will not perceive its meaning.’ Harden the hearts of these people. Close their ears, and shut their eyes. That way, they will not see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn to me for healing.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

 How would you feel if this was God’s instructions right after he called you? I think I would have responded exactly like Isaiah, “Lord, how long do I have to do this?” In fact, I’m giving myself way too much credit. More probably, I would say, “Really? You want me to do what? Why in the world would you want me to drive people away from you?”

Most commentators say that neither God nor Isaiah deliberately made people blind or deaf to him or hardened their hearts, but that this would be the natural result of preaching the gospel to them. Interestingly, these two verses are quoted six times in the New Testament, referring to the ministries of Jesus and the apostles. This sense of defeat is nothing new! But what do we do about it?

First, let’s diagnose the issue. I believe there are at least two main reasons we get to this place where we feel like our ministry is failing. My next two blogs will discuss each separately. Here’s what we can learn from Isaiah about how to deal with failure:

  1. Isaiah responded to God’s call.
  2. Isaiah redefined success. 
By the way, many of God’s other servants did these two simple things as well. We can learn much from them.
Would you like to share a story about failure in your ministry?

What have you learned about God and ministry and yourself through failure?
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Mike Mack
Michael C. Mack founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and served as a small-groups minister for more than 20 years in several churches. He is a writer, editor, trainer, and consultant in the areas of small groups, leadership, and discipleship. He is the author of more than 25 books and small group studies, including his latest, World's Greatest Small Group (pub. January, 2017). He regularly blogs on his ministry website at SmallGroupLeadership.com. His family is a small group that includes his wife Heidi, their four children, and their dog, Lainey. Mike is also an avid mountain biker.