by guest blogger, Bill Allison
While everyone has highs and lows, it has been my experience and observation that church leaders seem to have a proclivity for higher highs and much lower lows. My own ministry experience has always been a mountain top experience. Either I’ve been on the top of the mountain or the mountain has been on top of me, but either way ministry has always been a mountain top experience.
When our lives and ministries are moving forward, we feel elated and unstoppable. (True confession time: Sometimes when the ministry news is good, I literally SCREAM and dance around my office in what has become known in our family and ministry as “The Cadre Praise Conga.” I line up my kids and we go around in circles singing, “Da-da-da-da-da—praise!” My teenage kids no longer participate in this celebration. Some folks just don’t know how to worship God! If I’m alone when good ministry news comes, I might even sing James Brown’s song, “I Feel Good.”) However, when our hearts are heavy and discouraged, our emotions plummet us to the deepest and darkest levels of despair. Frankly, I can cycle through the highest and lowest of leadership and ministry emotions in a single day. But what else would you expect from a guy who dances in his office?
Ministry Can Be Worse
You don’t have to be involved in ministry at any level very long before something or someone will sting the deepest part of your heart. You will get whacked! I’ve always found ministry situations particularly discouraging and emotionally disheartening because I expect a higher level of behavior from us as Christians. (See the Bible.) But the gossip, emotional terrorism and viciousness are often worse than many non-Christian environments in which I have worked. That, my friends, is discouraging and though it ought not be, it often is reality.
Discouragement from the Inside
As I write this, I am meeting with three ministry leaders from completely different ministries who don’t think they can hold on any longer. They are beat up, tired and wondering if it’s all worth it. I sat with a husband and wife who have served God faithfully for years. I listened to them pour out their horrendous story. We cried and prayed. No easy answers. No Christian clichés. Just tons of tough questions, soul searching, disappointment and discouragement.
Discouragement from the Outside
In addition to the inner turmoil and discouragement that is often a part of our experience in serving God in the church, there are outside extenuating factors that can exacerbate the sting of discouragement in our lives. Some ministry friends I know are struggling with extraordinary tragedies like children with cancer and brain tumors, and one friend’s four-year-old daughter was run over by a truck. Still other ministry partners are trying to negotiate the discouraging waters of rebelling teenagers and struggling marriages. When your inner strength is depleted and your outer world is crashing down on you, the discouragement is extremely overwhelming.
Discouragement: The Killer of Christian Leaders
Not long ago I attended a conference by Dan Webster. Webster cogently pointed out three common pitfalls that sidetrack leaders: laziness, temptation and discouragement. While what Webster had to say about all three of these leadership landmines was absolutely engaging, it was his comments concerning discouragement that resonated deeply with my heart. Webster pointed out that of the three leadership pitfalls, discouragement was the biggest killer of leaders in the church. He said, “Discouragement among Christian leaders is almost epidemic.” When he said this, God brought specific faces of leaders — vocational and volunteer — I know who are currently journeying through difficult personal, relational, internal, emotional, spiritual, financial or ministerial terrain these days. From there my mind drifted to specific leaders I know who are not only out of leadership and ministry but their very faith has been shipwrecked on the rocks of discouragement.
Dealing the Deathblow to Discouragement
If discouragement is the primary leadership landmine that is blowing up in the face of Christian leaders like you, then it is absolutely critical that you learn how to encourage yourself in the Lord. Why encourage yourself? You may have noticed that no one else is coming to your rescue. And, frankly, there is little someone else can do for you if you do not do it for yourself. Therefore, developing the skill of self-encouragement is seminal to your survival! And God, in His book, the Bible, shows us how to encourage ourselves during those times our spirit wants to scream mercy and give up. One episode in David’s life in particular gives us some insight on how we can defeat discouragement by developing the ability to encourage ourselves in the Lord. More on that coming in part three.
Who is Bill Allison? When he became a youth pastor, Bill Allison (center in picture below) had six keys to effective youth ministry. Now, twenty-five years later, Bill has six kids of his own and no keys. His kids are ages six to sixteen, including two in junior high and two in high school, so pray for him. Some of Bill’s lifetime goals are to drive in a smash-up derby, ride a Harley on Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and chase a tornado. He’s madly in love with his wife, Stacy, and dates her every week, even after 20 years of marriage. When Bill is not dating his wife or doing life with his kids (and their friends), he is the Executive Director for Cadre Ministries, a faith-based missionary team (with almost 100 years of combined youth ministry experience) who pour their lives out to help churches equip students and volunteers to do ministry in Ephesians 4:11-12 fashion. Cadre has trained and certified many youth pastors to take training back to their students and volunteers. For information on becoming a certified trainer, or to bring Cadre training to your ministry, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way, even as an old guy, Bill continues to serve as a volunteer in the high school youth ministry of his church and wants to spend the rest of his life training, coaching, and mentoring the next generation of volunteer and vocational youth workers.
Posted on January 16, 2008