WINDSOR, ONTARIO – When I was a young pastor, I confided in a dear saint who attended our church. Retired, traditional beyond measure, and a spiritual legalist, he loved Jesus deeply but carried some weird ideas about ministry and the Christian life.
He told me it was a sin for a pastor to be discouraged. With his thick German accent, he chided me for feeling blue that day. It took me a long time to shake the guilt and shame that he piled on my shoulders, and from time to time I still think about that interaction.
Charles Spurgeon faced a lifelong battle with discouragement. Spurgeon saw discouragement as such a normal part of ministry that he included a lecture called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” in his Lectures to My Students.
“Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?” (https://www.crossway.org/articles/the-ministers-fainting-fits/)
Put this way, it would be unusual not to feel discouraged as pastors. We all battle with feelings of discouragement or despair.
Spurgeon went on to say,
“By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of his faithfulness, and are the more firmly established in his love.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a classic book on this subject entitled Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. The central text of the book is from Psalm 42:5.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Just as the psalmist rebukes his own soul over the gloom that has cast it down, reasoning with himself that God is still worthy of praise, Lloyd-Jones makes this observation:
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: “I shall yet praise Him….”
(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, pp. 20-21)
Pastors are not the only ones who get discouraged, of course. Doctors, accountants, schoolteachers, and retail salespeople all face discouragement too. But pastoral ministry has its own set of unique pressures.
It’s why, when Paul listed his sufferings — “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” — he finished the list by saying, “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28 NIV).
The churches were a source of joy to Paul, but they also produced concern or anxiety (ESV) for him. So, we pastors are not so different from Paul in this regard. We experience the highest highs and the lowest lows by virtue of being pastors in the glorious church of God!
If you’re a pastor, expect to be discouraged. It’s not necessarily a sign that you’re doing something wrong, that you have sinned, that everyone is against you, or that your ministry is over. It is par for the course.
Even while prostrate in the dust, put your hope in God and praise him (Psalm 42:5 NIV).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Garth Leno is the Pastor/Planter Care Specialist with the BSCM. He serves in a similar role with the Canadian National Baptist Convention, and he is the founding pastor of The Gathering Church in Windsor, Ontario, a church he planted with his wife, Patty, and a few of their friends.