We are now more than two years into a global pandemic. To say that vocational leaders are tired and discouraged would be a colossal understatement. On the front end of it, most seemed to quickly acknowledge, “this isn’t going to be a sprint, we’re going to have to lace up for a marathon.” And pastors did just that.
We watched as leaders learned to pivot, sometimes overnight, to accommodate governmental health regulations. The catchword “unprecedented” was on everyone’s tongue and it was true, never in our lifetimes did we have to navigate anything like this. Many in those first months were running on adrenaline.
Six months in, we began to see it take its toll. Toilet paper wasn’t the only thing in short supply. Church finances were down. Staff positions were cut. Pastors were depleted, Then they awoke to the fact, “Hey wait, this isn’t just a marathon, this is a triathlon. I’m supposed to know how to swim, bike, and run and lead others to do the same.” Things were being required, and demanded, of vocational leaders that they had not been trained for and had no clue how to do. And yet, in the middle of the mess, it was remarkable to witness how many rallied to accomplish things they had never dreamed they could. God’s grace was filling in the empty spaces.
But it’s not over yet, and we are seeing many who are now, after 24 months, deeply discouraged. We’re hearing things like:
People are not coming back to church.
Those that are coming back are fighting over vaccines, masks, and mandates.
I can’t find volunteers. I suspect they’re using the virus to not serve.
My staff and I are exhausted.
There are deep divides in my own family about COVID.
This is not the way I wanted to start my ministry.
This is not the way I wanted to end my ministry.
I’m not sure it’s worth the fight.
Perhaps today you are grappling with some of these same disappointments and you feel the weight of discouragement pressing down upon you. Can I offer you a few simple suggestions? None of these will be new to you but sometimes when life and ministry get hard, we need to be reminded of what we know but have forgotten.
Talk to someone. It might be Clergy Care at Focus on the Family Canada (1-888-525-3749). This is a free counselling service for pastors and their families. It might be a friend. We need to stop pretending everything is FINE and we’re AWESOME when we’re discouraged and want to quit! It might be your medical doctor. Ongoing discouragement can develop into patterns of depressive thinking. It may be time to make an appointment.
Take care of your body. Discouragement can send us into a downward spiral where we simply give up on caring for ourselves. Studies have shown repeatedly the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise to deal with mental health challenges. Japanese research says, getting an eyeful of nature supercharges the positive effects of exercise – it lowers blood pressure and boosts mood and self-esteem.
Think about what you’re thinking about. Leslie Vernick writes, “All of us attempt to make sense of the things that happen in our lives. We try to figure out why they happen and what it all means. It’s crucial that we pay attention to the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, about others, about God or a particular situation, and whether or not those stories are actually true.” When Elijah was discouraged, he was telling himself things that simply were not true. He was not all alone. He wasn’t the only one left. Keeping a close watch on your thought life is always important especially when you’re discouraged.
Strengthen yourself in the Lord. David, in the midst of great struggle, in the midst of profound discouragement had to learn how to do this (1 Samuel 30:6). Is it just me or have there been times in your life when a run around the block isn’t going to do it? The solution is to go face down on the floor and let the presence of Jesus minister deeply to your discouraged soul. Billy Graham writes, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'O God help me.'” You’re not alone my friend, we all face seasons of discouragement. In Matthew, Jesus reminds us, “come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The invitation is there – we just have to decide how we’ll respond.
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known. I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16