If you have been in the world of kidmin for any length of time, then you’ve surely learned one thing—children’s ministry is not for the faint of heart.
Plain and simple—children’s ministry is hard. It can chew you up and spit you out leaving you feeling defeated, discouraged, and alone.
Sure, we have our good times filled with fun activities, exciting big events, and exhilarating results.
But then there’s the dark side of our calling like unsupportive leadership, unruly kids, unmotivated or simply unavailable volunteers, unhappy parents, and an underwhelming budget.
No wonder the average “lifespan” of a children’s pastor is generally reported as less than 24 months. I want to take the next few blog posts and talk about what I believe to be the number one killer of children’s pastors:
Discouragement comes without warning.
It just barges into your world, steals your joy, cripples your confidence, distorts the way you see yourself and distances you from the people you need the most.
I know it because I have this weird, ongoing relationship with discouragement. It’s like having an obnoxious, out-of-state second cousin show up at my door totally unexpected and unannounced:
“Hi there! I’m just passing through your area and thought I’d stop by and say Hi!”
May and August are the prime seasons for this “distant relative” to come knocking at my door. It just so happens that May and August are when we do all our volunteer recruitment campaigns.
Year after year, the story plot unfolds in the same predictable way: my team and I determine how many volunteers we need to kick off the school year or summer program strong.
We even make the announcement on the big stage…
and then we wait, and wait and wait.
A couple of people sign up. A few others promise to think about it. Most of the people pass the info booth either politely smiling or not even looking our way. Slowly the church halls empty and quickly discouragement opens the door and enters in.
It plumps its fat suitcase on the floor and starts unpacking its “baggage”.
"You failed! No one seems too eager to follow you. It appears you’re not cut out to lead this ministry after all."
"You poured so much effort into this campaign and no one has responded. Poor you!"
"Are you even the right person for this job? Do you have the skills and the personality it takes to really make this work?
"No one else cares about the children! These people are just a bunch of self-absorbed churchgoers!"
"If no one else cares, why should you? Surely you’d be better off doing something else with your time."
After discouragement finishes scattering its junk all over my soul, I become blinded to anything good happening in my children’s ministry, and when that happens, the temptation to quit or at least to cool off my zeal becomes very attractive.
What’s interesting is that it doesn’t take something big to make discouragement show up at my door.
Something as little as a text message or a phone call on Saturday night letting me know that a key volunteer won’t be there on Sunday can cause the heavy cloud of discouragement to descend upon my soul.
And when that cloud comes, I have found that it affects me in two primary areas—my perception and my direction.
DISCOURAGEMENT affects me in two primary areas—my perception and my direction.
First of all, discouragement influences my perception.
It distorts the way I see reality, convincing me that no one cares about the children except me and that I’m in it all alone.
Basically, I lose perspective.
And after my eyes start to glaze over with despair, it’s easy to start doubting my calling, questioning my competency, and ultimately feeling like a miserable failure.
Once discouragement distorts my perception, it threatens to alter my direction.
At this point, I may start to feel like I want to turn my back on the ministry and walk away. Or it might not feel that drastic. I might just be tempted to stop trying so hard. No one appreciates all the hard work I’m doing anyway.
Maybe I should just care less.
If you want to do a case study on discouragement, take a look at the prophet Elijah.
After his spectacular triumph on Mount Carmel, he receives a death threat from Queen Jezebel. Suddenly, the dark cloud comes down and discouragement enters his soul.
Look at how it affected his perception and direction:
01: Clouded Perception:
ELIJAH, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left.” (1 Kings 19:10 and 14)
02: Revealed Reality:
GOD, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Elijah was convinced that besides him, no one else in the entire kingdom of Israel worshipped Yahweh.
This distorted reality made him feel outnumbered, defeated, and hopeless.
However, the truth was that God had an army of 7,000 strong and He was not anywhere close to losing the battle.
The natural consequence of this clouded perception was to head in the wrong direction:
01: Wrong direction:
“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” (1 Kings 19:3) ELIJAH: “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
02: Corrected course:
GOD, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord... Go back the way you came…” (1 Kings 19:11 and 15)
Fear caused Elijah to forget who he was and abandon his calling.
He entered the self-preservation mode.
In his mind, his service to Yahweh was too risky and too demanding, and in the long run didn’t make any difference.
However, after Elijah encountered the presence of God, the cloud of discouragement dissipated, and he received a new vision and a new mission. God made it very clear that He wasn’t finished with Elijah yet.
I have a suspicion that God isn’t finished with you either.
Whether you feel exhausted like Elijah, outnumbered like Jehosophat, forgotten like Paul, mistreated like Jeremiah, or intimidated by your predecessor like Joshua, hear the word of the Lord to you:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Did you catch it?
God actually commands you!
Your commander-in-chief ORDERS you to embrace strength and let go of discouragement.
If you find yourself swallowed by discouragement, know that the sun will break through and the heaviness will lift.
In the next four posts we will talk about how to beat discouragement by ENJOYING SIMPLE THINGS, ENJOYING GOD’S PRESENCE, CHANGING YOUR PERSPECTIVE, and HAVING A HERO. Until then, stay strong and stay put!
When does discouragement pay you a visit? Have you seen a predictable pattern? Comment below.
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