A Pastor’s Dirty Secret: Disappointment can Steal my Passion
I love being a pastor, and my guess is that you do too.
It’s not an easy job, so those of us who choose to take it on full-time tend to have passion for ministry in spades. But there’s a flip side to the coin: sometimes, disappointment comes in like a thief and robs us of this passion. Let me explain.
Checking our expectations
I’ve found throughout my years in a senior pastor role that my energy is nearly endless for serving the Lord and my church members. But, just like husbands and wives often have unsaid expectations in their relationships, there are also some things I expect from, and want for, my congregation. Since every part of my life is intertwined with reading the bible and/or in prayer, I hope that my church members lives will be similarly intertwined. After all, I’ve seen firsthand how relying on God can enrich lives. So, it’s only normal to want that for the people I lead and love.
But it’s a different reality, unfortunately. Many people who aren’t pastors don’t see life that way. They go to church on Sunday, pray once or twice during the day and otherwise live their lives. I’m not passing judgment on them - it’s because it matters so deeply to us, that we carry the burdens of their actions in our own hearts. Maybe it's different for you, but this is what I’ve found to be largely true among people who aren’t in full-time ministry. Compartmentalization is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for someone in a leadership position to watch.
Let’s say I preached a message out of James 1 on how to surrender your heart to the Lord in the middle of conflict on a Sunday. But then I see later in the week that two of my church members are acting in opposition to that message. Honestly, few things get me more disappointed and frustrated than this - but expressing this is hard to do. I would’ve poured every ounce of my passion and insight into that sermon, and in a dream scenario the congregation will immediately try to incorporate those teachings into their lives.
However, checking that expectation means taking a good, long look in the mirror. The Lord is so graceful with us. He allows us to keep trying and takes true joy in even the smallest steps we make. Therefore, I too, should work to have a heart more like Him, so I can avoid succumbing to this disappointment.
The snowball effect
However, when this kind of scenario plays out, my mind starts lying to me. I find myself questioning my own ability to lead others. My internal monologue sounds something like this: “Am I even any good at this? I’ve been a pastor for 22 years, but I’m not seeing Mr. and Mrs. Jones commit their lives as they said they would at the altar. Even worse, I’m seeing them fall back into bad patterns. I’m obviously not reaching them, which means I’m obviously not good at this.”
Can you see how the enemy uses these types of circumstances to mess with our hearts? If I let myself fall into this trap, I could easily fall further into a tailspin. I might become bitter and resentful. I might become disenchanted with being a pastor altogether. This single thing is almost enough to unravel me, and everything I’ve accomplished with the Lord to this point.
Striving to be a good shepherd
But then, I stop and remind myself of my role. Whenever I end up ensnared in doubt and disappointment, I have to proactively and repeatedly remind myself of my part in God’s story. I have to realize that my responsibility is to aim for HIS approval first and foremost as a pastor and leader. This mentality is echoed in the encouragement of Paul to his protege Timothy.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 1 Timothy 2:15
As ministers, our role is diversified in so many directions but it should never stray far from our top responsibility: to properly expose our people to the purity and truth of God’s word. In Psalm 23, I’m reminded of what a good shepherd’s responsibility really is: to feed and protect people. So, that needs to be my expectation - to feed and protect. I can lead a horse to water, but what they do with that water is out of my control.
So, I’ve learned that the remedy for disappointment, doubt and unmet expectations is this: Remember your role. Our responsibility as pastors is to stay in step with the Lord at all times. It’s to help lead people by still waters; to get them to a place where they can listen to the gospel and be inspired to live it out in their lives.
And as Pastors, the best way to do this is to immerse ourselves in God’s word. If there’s one thing that we all can strive for it’s a desire to double down on our relationship with our bible. We must read it, seek revelations from the Lord and then share those with our church members.
If you’ve felt like I have, I want to encourage you to stay the course. Other people will disappoint you, but the Word of God never will. Lean into it, remember your role - and try to let go of the expectation that others will always receive your words and act on them as you’d like them to. You are planting the seeds; but their role is to accept them and ultimately grow on their own.