How much does it take to discourage you? How do you stay encouraged? If you don’t have a proven practice to stay encouraged in ministry your leadership will have all the ups and downs of a roller coaster. Aside from burnout there is the daily grind that wears on a leader’s faith. A mark of great leadership is the ability to stay encouraged.
I remember waking the morning after the Las Vegas shooting, October 2, 2017. When I awoke, I did what I always do—I grabbed my phone with my favorite Bible app and headed to my prayer closet. I saw a message on the home screen that read, 50 Dead in Las Vegas Shooting. When I opened the article, I discovered that more than 200 were injured and 50 people had lost their lives, in what was then called, “the worst massacre in modern history.”
I was already feeling a little blue because of a few aches and pains and other unwanted reminders that I really am getting older, and I thought, “Great! More depressing news.”
Out of a sense of despair, like a drowning person reaching for a life-line, I opened my Bible app to a go-to passage of Scripture I read when I need encouragement. I read where Paul, who had a lot more reasons for feeling down than I, talks about dealing with people who reject the truth and the sufferings he experienced for preaching the good news.
Yet he wasn’t down. He says, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. (NLT)
Perplexed? Yes! Driven to despair? No! What kept Paul going? He tells us. “But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke’” 2 Corinthians 4:13. (NLT)
That’s it! “I believed in God.” There were not six steps to be encouraged. There were only four words, “I believe in God,” and one step, “…so I spoke.”
“If you don’t have a proven practice to stay encouraged in ministry your leadership will have all the ups and downs of a roller coaster.”
As a leader, the greatest thing you can do to stay encouraged is to develop the habit of belief in God. Belief in God is far more than believing He exists, it is is knowing God on a level that keeps you courageously going forward for God when everything you see tells you to quit.
I say habit because belief must be your automatic response. It’s what you do without thinking about it, like patting down your pocket checking for your keys or wallet even if literally you just put them there, or like looking at your smart phone when you feel it vibrate or hear it chime.
Here is my short list of practices to develop the habit of belief that keep me leading courageously:
Four practices to stay encouraged in ministry
1. The practice of fellowship
Make friends with people who know God on a level that they can call you up. Early in my Christian life I had the privilege of hanging out with people who knew God in a way that I could not know him at my young age. I took giant steps of faith not because I trusted God, but because I trusted that my friends knew God. I got to know God through them—through their stories, and through their instructions, and through their actions, and through their encouragement.
Sometimes we have not experienced God in the situation we are dealing with. Sometimes we just lose sight of God because of the difficulty of the situation we are dealing with. Either way, we need others who know God and can call us up to trust in God.
It is easy in ministry to become the lone leader. Don’t let that happen to you. Maybe you have fellowship with people in your congregation that deep knowledge of God. That’s great! But if you do not, connect with friends outside your church. In the times in which we live with the internet and mobile phones there is no excuse for being disconnected.
We will never get to the place that we don’t need others. If you want to stay encouraged in ministry you must connect with people who can help you trust in God when you don’t want to or don’t know how to.
2. The practice of nurturing your faith on God’s word
Without a doubt one of the most important practice I have developed to stay encouraged in ministry is seeking to know God through His word. Not only do I learn about God through His word, I find I am encouraged by the stories, examples, principles and promises in the Bible.
Be careful that your only time in God’s word isn’t preparing to instruct others. Sermon preparation is a great place to study and learn, as long as you are not just looking to help others. Leaders must first lead themselves to know God through his word.
As you read and study the Bible and you find your soul is lifted by something you read mark it. Come back to it often, just as I came back to 2 Corinthians 4 on October 2, 2017.
3. The practice of obedience
Never compromise a conviction. We all are tempted to compromise our convictions when it becomes uncomfortable to keep them. For example, it is easier to give up on a difficult ministry than it is to stay put where you know God has called you. And, it is easier to tithe on “next week’s paycheck” than it is to keep a commitment to tithe from “the first of all your income”1 when income is low. However, whenever you are tempted to give up, yet you stick with your conviction, you forge a deeper habit of belief. You learn new things about God.
“Whenever you are tempted to give up, yet you stick with your conviction, you forge a deeper habit of belief.”
This is the point behind James’ admonition, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” James 1:2-4. (NLT)
And we have this promise from Jesus, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them” John 14:21. (NLT) Emphasis added.
The things you learn about God from the practice of obedience are the things that will keep you encourage over the long-haul of ministry.
There is a fourth practice that is a “must do”. You practice the first three so you can do the fourth. Without this final practice you’ll never stay encouraged and you’ll wonder why. This is the practice that is universally overlooked. Forsaking this one thing is like letting the engine on your car run out of oil.
4. Stay encouraged in ministry with the practice of taking unbelief captive
Have you stopped to consider what discouragement is? Let me warn you before I tell you the answer. You may not like what you are about to hear. But don’t reject what you hear just because you don’t like it.
Discouragement is loss of faith. Before you can be discouraged you must let go of your faith. I know you don’t like that. Neither did I. But it is true. You can’t be discouraged while you believe God will come through for you. You can’t be discouraged while you believe his word is good, acceptable, and perfect. You can’t be discouraged at the same time believe that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Before you can be discouraged you must abandon your faith in God.
If you want to stay encouraged in leadership you must have the habit of taking unbelief captive. This is exactly what the Lord told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them” Joshua 1:6. (NLT) God told Joshua to believe, “…you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them.” Believing that God could and would deliver on His word would make Joshua “strong and courageous”. Before Joshua could be discouraged he had to abandon his belief that he would lead the people to possess the land.
A church I planted grew rapidly for three years and then it took nosedive. I believed God wanted me to lead that church back to health and solid growth, but when attendance continued to plummet I lost my faith. The thought that dominated my mind was, “When a church falls this far it can’t be turned around.” And, “This church is going to die.” The church continued in decline until I decided to believe. I took my unbelief captive and replaced it with belief. I accepted the truth that, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I would have to learn new skills and grow as a leader, but I accepted that I could learn and grow by God’s grace.
The only thought that I allowed to dominate my mind was, “I can and I will by God’s grace lead this church back to health and solid growth.” Each new challenge was met with, “I can I will by God’s grace…”
I became encouraged when I took my unbelief captive and trusted that Christ would give me the grace to lead the church back to health and solid growth. You can’t be discouraged and believe God at the same time.
“Belief in God is far more than beliving He exists, it is knowing God on a level that keeps you courageously going forward for God when everything you see tells you to quit.”
Pastor, do you have friends in your life that know God better than you? Are you nurturing your faith daily on God’s word? Do you practice obedience confessing your failures quickly? Are you taking your unbelief captive?
As a good friend recently reminded me, “I practiced all three—fellowship, reading the Bible, and obedience and I was still discouraged. Nothing changed until I dealt with my unbelief.”
Today as you hear bad news and are reminded of what is wrong in the world and in your church, I pray you stay encouraged simply because you believe in God.
The stakes are too high to not stay encouraged in ministry. How many of those who died in the Las Vegas shooting went to hell? The harsh reality is, all of them who did not have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember this simple but profound truth: God is. God is who He says he is and He will do everything He promised. Remember Paul’s word to the Romans, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” Romans 8:31-32. (NLT)
Believe in God and stay encouraged in ministry.