I know. There are many unhappy ministers in our local churches. Such is not a judgmental statement, but a statement of reality. Indeed, I count myself among those who have struggled with joy in ministry on more than one occasion.
In this post, I share ten of the most common reasons pastors and other church staff members lose their joy in ministry. But I don’t want to just dwell on the negative. Next to each reason, I offer suggestions to counter these joy stealers. Indeed, I have learned both the reasons for joy stealers and the reasons joy returns largely from you readers. Over the past few years, you have been my teachers in many ways. I am so grateful for you.
What are the joy stealers? Even more importantly, what are pastors and other church staff doing to recapture their joy? Here are ten common responses.
- Seeing the underbelly of Christian ministry. Christian ministry means working with sinners just like you and me. It’s often not a pretty sight to see what we see in local churches. And while we don’t condone sin, let’s learn to demonstrate grace and love like Jesus did and does.
- Constant criticisms (“death by a thousand cuts”). I received my first criticism as a pastor on my third day of ministry. I was crushed. May we be men and women who seek to please God instead of people. And may He give us the strength to be godly and gracious when we do receive criticisms.
- Fighting among Christians. A non-Christian recently told me that he has been observing Christians on blogs and social media the past several months. He said: “You Christians are some of the meanest people I’ve ever known.” Ouch. We will know Christlike joy when we act like Him, and not like the world.
- Busyness that turns to prayerlessness. We will always lose our joy when we neglect our time in prayer. When we pray, we are connected to the Source of all joy. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy.
- Unreasonable work hours. Many in Christian ministry become workaholics to the detriment of their families and themselves. It is ultimately our choice and our responsibility to have a balanced life. When we don’t, the joy goes away.
- Attacks on our family. This is an especially difficult joy stealer because we sometimes feel powerless when it happens. Be even more diligent in prayer to seek His wisdom. Let your family know they come first. Confront the perpetrator if necessary. But do this all in a spirit of prayer and love.
- Sour staff relations. Anecdotally, I believe this joy stealer is present in over half of our churches. It is your responsibility to be gracious, to be a reconciler, and to be a peacemaker. If relationships are still sour, you have done all you can. Your joy comes from the Lord, not the other church staff.
- Inwardly focused church. A church that focuses most ministries and activities on the members and not those beyond the church becomes stale and self-serving. You must get your joy in the Lord by reaching out to others regardless of what others in the church do.
- Lack of respect in the community and culture. Up until about 1990, most ministers were respected, if not revered, in their communities. That reality is shifting dramatically in most communities today. Remember again, your joy does not come from the approval of men and women in the community.
- Entitlement mentality among some church members. A number of church members view the church as a country club where they pay dues to get what they want. You responsibility as a minister in the church is to serve all people in the name of Christ. In doing so, you will find His joy. But that does not mean you have to yield to the demands of selfish whiners.
There are definitely two common themes in this article. First, ministry in the church is not easy. It’s been that way for 2,000 years. Second, if we focus on these joy-stealers, they will indeed take away our joy. But if we keep our focus on Christ, our joy can never be taken away.
Let me hear from you. What are some joy stealers you have encountered in ministry? How did you get your joy back?