According to Lifeway Research, 48% of protestant pastors surveyed listed “discouragement” as one of the top mental health challenges they faced in ministry. Levels of discouragement can run from “Ministry Mondays” where the challenges of Sunday make a pastor or Christian leader feel numb on Monday, to full blown depression that calls for a greater level of care.
Discouragement is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness.” In common language, it means to feel like giving up or losing the will to keep going.
The reasons for ministry discouragement are varied and often connected to one’s season in ministry or their current ministry context. It can result from ministry fatigue — helping others while not caring well for oneself — being overscheduled, lack of visible fruit, comparison to a more outwardly successful leader, spending too much time dealing with major problems or spiritual warfare. Whatever the reason, discouragement is a battle and many ministers and Christian leaders have quit their ministry because of it.
What can we do with our discouragement? Here are five suggestions:
1. Tell it to Jesus. This is more than a platitude or the title to a well-known Christian hymn. It is the first and best prescription for dealing with discouragement. From Bible heroes to more contemporary saints, all of us have been helped by the example of those who went straight to God with their troubles. Confess your discouragement to Him openly, candidly, honestly and transparently. It may very well be as far as you need to go in battling this common malady.
2. Tell it to a friend. Sometimes we need the ear and the voice of a fellow follower of Jesus. Many of us have heard the quote that a burden shared is a burden halved. When we find a trusted confidant that we can confide in about our discouragement, then we have the sacred prize of a listening ear and a trusted friend who will help us pray through our darker seasons. May the Lord give you a friend like this.
3. Seek counsel. Oftentimes, and for many, discouragement lingers to the point that it affects our outlook on life and ministry and our ability to function well in our ministry assignment. This may be the time to consider talking to someone who is skilled in soul care. There are many good counselors who can provide needed assistance in navigating challenging times.
4. Journal your experience. Many of us have benefited from putting our thoughts, including discouragement, in writing. While this doesn’t work for everyone it may be worth your consideration as a spiritual discipline.
5. Take a break. I heard an old preacher say one time that sometimes the best thing we can do in challenging times is to take a nap. Getting some rest may be the reminder you need that God is in control and He will care well for you — even amid your challenges.
Whether you try one of these suggestions or something else, do remember that God is up to something in your discouragement. He may be revealing a misplaced loyalty or an idol that needs to be rooted out and destroyed. He is also making you a minister who will be more equipped to help others who are going through the same thing.