I’ve heard of many churches brainstorming ways to encourage and bless their pastors. Praise God for these faithful congregations! They may identify things such as giving him a sabbatical, increasing his salary, or sending him to a conference. These are all good things that he’d no doubt appreciate. But, there’s one gift that he will always need. It’s less expensive and likely more valuable. Encouragement.
Pastors get discouraged. But they don’t often come right out and say it, do they? Instead, like a disabled war veteran skilled at veiling his persistent pain, pastors tend to bury their grimaces under the surface and press on. But the pain persists. And so does the limp if you look closely.
I’m not breaking any news by saying that pastoral ministry is challenging and that the last two years have been especially so. I’m not writing this to engender sympathy but to provide perspective. I don’t want anyone’s pity, and I’m sure my brothers don’t either. At the same time, I don’t think pastors do a great job recognizing and processing discouragement. I also don’t believe that many in the church have it on their radar to encourage their pastor. So here, in the middle of what’s known as Pastor Appreciation Month, I want to speak for and to pastors, hoping to shift the winds of discouragement during this season.
Symptoms of Discouragement
When I look within myself or without towards my friends and colleagues, I see a variety of manifestations of discouragement. Guys are hurting. Here are ten symptoms of discouragement.
Spiritual Dryness: Pastors are trying to pray but feel like the prayers aren’t reaching the ceiling. In the past, it seemed like their prayers would light with the ease of a zippo lighter, but now they feel like they are rubbing two sticks together. Their hearts feel cold, and the wood seems wet.
Depression: Maybe not clinically diagnosed, but there’s an abiding sense that the dark clouds have moved in. And they’re not moving out. This can look like a bad mood. But it can be far worse, with inactivity, physical and mental atrophy, even suicide. This is far more prevalent than people want to admit or realize.
Insomnia: Many pastors aren’t sleeping. Burdened with the weight of current decisions, the regret of past decisions, difficult counseling situations, fear over the future, guilt over personal sin, and the compounding broken heart from people walking away from Christ or his church—they feel like they’re sleeping on a bed of thorns. Being exhausted and unable to sleep takes its toll. It fuels a cycle of discouragement.
Weight gain: Like most in the rest of the world, these last couple of years have reshaped us (figuratively and literally). And like others, pastors feel the need for comfort. Unfortunately, turning to food, drink, or recreation for our comfort will not only fail them, but it will also compound our problem by diminishing their physical health to match their spiritual counterpart. The extra inches on the waist may be a manifestation of discouragement. The tears of our hearts can land in surprising places.
Diminishing zeal: Pastors got into ministry because of a degree of zeal. Now they feel like they’re walking into a headwind of adversity that will not decrease. When walking in a snow storm up a hill, even the most ardent outdoorsman will entertain thoughts of turning back.
Resignations: It’s no secret that pastors are resigning in record numbers. Most reading this article can think of a few they know who’ve left the ministry. It’s hard feeling like they’re serving in a fruitless ministry. Pastors can even feel like the boat of ministry is taking on water because they are the Jonah; maybe things will be better if they get out. This is the reasoning and wisdom when sailing in the doldrums. It’s a painful place.