I once suggested that a Godward focus would help to prevent discouragement in preachers. I’d found that focusing on the greatness of God and the excellencies of Christ certainly helped me feel less of the discouragement that used to dog me when I preach.
I meant well, but a wise mentor corrected me. “Discouragement is normal,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you preach. You won’t be able to avoid it.”
To be sure, we’re all different. Some, like Charles Spurgeon, face 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. “Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” He asked. “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?” Put this way, it would be unusual not to feel discouraged as pastors.
Some of us have higher emotional setpoints. We can withstand the pressures of ministry without feeling weighed down. But I don’t know anyone who doesn’t occasionally find themselves in a slump. Even the most even-tempered among us will sometimes feel unsupported, inadequate, alone, and overwhelmed.
Of course, pastors aren’t unique. Accountants, school teachers, and arborists all face discouragement too. Pastors don’t necessarily have it harder. We get to enjoy blessings that many others don’t, including time in Scripture and the joy of seeing people grow. We often also receive encouragement from those we serve. Pastoral ministry is a privilege.
But pastoral ministry also includes a set of unique pressures. It’s why, when Paul listed his sufferings — beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, hunger, and more — he capped the list with “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). “The churches of God were and remain a source of joy, but also of anxiety, to those who are their pastors,” observes Paul Barnett.
All of this to say: if you’re a pastor, expect to be discouraged. It’s not necessarily a sign that you’re doing something wrong or that your ministry is over. It’s par for the course.
Not everyone will understand your discouragement. Some will mock it. But if you look around, you will find others who have been there too and have gone on to more fruitful ministry. God’s choicest servants have battled with discouragement too.
One day we’ll be free from the discouragement and pressures of life and ministry, but that day hasn’t come yet. Right now our calling is to suffer (2 Timothy 2:3).
So get help. Find some friends. Find a hobby. Take time off. Find your identity in God rather than in your ministry. Don’t quit when you’re discouraged. Ask seasoned pastors how they dealt with discouragement in their ministries.
But don’t quit, and don’t be surprised. Expect it. Discouragement in pastoral ministry is normal.