Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said “to expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”. What I got out of this rather cryptic quote is that unexpected events will occur; things will always turn out different to how we expected them.
This is particularly true when you head into a season full of excitement, vigour and expectancy. These can (and often are) be met with confusion, frustration and disappointment. Perhaps things aren’t as you’d hope they’d be, and you find yourself fighting battles that you never thought you’d have to face. Maybe it’s made you question whether or not you’ve made a mistake in taking up the role in the first place, and is making you considering heading for the door (tip: DON’T until you’ve given everything a fair go. See my article ‘Endure or exit’ here).
With every setback, we have an opportunity to make a choice; we can either lament the frustrations or you can learn from them to make you a better leader and person. So here are the choices:
Ministry can be an incredibly lonely and thankless calling. Even when you look like you have it all together, you may feel like you’re screaming on the inside. You perhaps feel like people are just taking from you without any regard for you as a person.
I have often said that disappointment in ministry looks remarkably like the Kübler-Ross model; better known as the ‘five stages of grief’. Let me know if you find these signs familiar.
“Did that really just happen?”… “things will go back to how they were before”. Often in reality, they don’t. And this can just exacerbate how you’re feeling and will prolong the season of hurt. You often forfeit the opportunity to truly move on until this ‘stage’ is passed through.
“I can’t believe they did that!”… “Who do they think they are? Do they not realise who I am?”. This one is tough, and can often stick around for a long time. The tricky thing about anger is it often presents itself subconsciously and can come out rather passively. Anger is bitterness, and bitterness is just unfulfilled revenge. This one needs to be addressed swiftly, often with the support of a professional. Don’t let anger fester because it will breed quickly, and rarely resolves itself on its own.
Admittedly, this one isn’t overly prevalent in ministry circles, but it can happen. But I have seen it many times where leaders compromise way too much to please others. The issue with this is that it can sacrifice so much; your vision, calling and passion. The big problem that results from this is that leaders often end up resenting themselves for allowing their ministry identity to become lost. Don’t let the vocal minority dictate what the ministry could be.
Always hear people out, because their idea may very well be better than your own. Don’t be closed off to that possibility, but don’t let someone get their way purely because they are the loudest voice. That’s toxic.
As someone with a counselling and psychology background, I want to be very careful how I use the word ‘depression’, so I’ll replace it with melancholy. This usually happens when learned helplessness creeps into the psyche of the person who feels they have been wronged, and this is definitely relevant in ministry. We can get so tired and worn down by worrying and stressing about the issues at hand that we can just ‘shut down’. It’s usually a sign of mental exhaustion and begins to show itself quite clearly. If this is you, please seek professional help (information below) and/or talk to someone you trust.
And please, please, please… pray. We can cast all our anxieties on Him for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Unfortunately, many never get to this point. The ability and/or willingness never gets realised and the leader can brew in frustration and hatred. It’s okay to disagree with a particular decision or Church; it’s healthy to have a difference of opinion when it comes to how ministry should be run. Accept what’s happened, and move on.
So with ‘acceptance’, you now have a beautiful opportunity presented in front of you. You learn.
The old adage of ‘experience’ is the best teacher is so fitting in this context. It’s important to learn from tough lessons; take any responsibility that you can and use it to make sure you don’t make the mistakes again.
Albert Einstein once said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. So be encouraged! Your creativity is there and is one of the best attributes a Church leader can have.
Yes, there may still be feelings of hurt and frustration, but you can only control what you can.
It needs to be said, if there are still feelings of resentment or anger towards someone, some people or a Church, make sure you patch that relationship where you can. God calls us to a patient, unfailing and humble love so let’s show that to others… whoever we believe is at fault.
People matter more than opinion. Win the person, not the argument.
So what have you learned through your situation? How can you avoid such pitfalls next time? Without this level of humility and inward, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Own what you need to. Seriously. It may be difficult, but it’ll set you up extremely well for your next calling.
Ministry can be weird, because these signs aren’t always linear. One person may be stuck on one of these for a prolonged period of time (or may never actually get out of it).
How do I know all of this? Is it because of my background in psychology? Well partly. But I know all of this because I have been there. I get it.
Don’t let the frustrations of ministry bog you down. It can destroy not only your current ministry, but your future calling as well. Bring everything to God in prayer. Seek His voice through the Scriptures. Talk to a trusted Church leader. It can make all the difference in the world.
So it’s up to you. You have a choice. Will you lament? Or will you learn?
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