“Must be able to deal with hassles” seems like a job requirement for ministry leaders and pastors. As I considered this idea, I was struck with it as a mark of ministry reality. Generally, ministry is a place where much is given and little is received in terms of encouragement. When faced with this cycle, we really should take notice – constant exposure wears us down and burns us out.
We all know the statistics: ministry burn out, failure, and resignation rates are through the roof. The number of us who finish well in vocational ministry is low and showing up day in and day out, knowing that most of what we encounter will feel like a hassle, is one of many reasons why.
Think about it like this: if you are a ministry leader, when was the last time you went to a church service or event and received more than you gave or was taken from you?
Don’t hear this post as a complaint. If anyone gets into ministry and doesn’t think it is going to be giving, serving, and meeting the needs of people who look to you for guidance, you are misled. I’m talking less about the normal servant’s heart part of ministry and more about when most of what we do feels like the same hassles on repeat week after week. When you feel like that, you’re on a one way road to burn out.
So what do we do when the hassles seem too much?
I don’t know if there is a scientific test for resilience, but I know when I consider hiring staff, resiliency is one of the things I want to understand about them. It is not a character qualification, nor are there many ministry leadership gifts assessments that rate for the gift of resiliency, but it is a necessity for anyone in vocational ministry.
Have you suffered? What has been the most difficult season of life for you? How did you get through it? These are all indicators of resiliency and if you don’t have great answers to those questions or haven’t suffered much, ministry might not be the best place to figure that out. You’ll end up hurting people if you don’t have the right amount of resiliency to endure through the hassles of ministry.
I am not talking about stoicism, but about being able to take some shots, be tired, and continue to press on. It’s a clear model for us in the New Testament (2 Cor 11:24-12:10) and should be the norm for ministers in the Church.
Not to be the fool who says the same thing that has always been said, but here it is: if Jesus had to do it, so do you. If anyone knows what it is like to be hassled it is Jesus – harassed by enemies, misunderstood by friends, hassled by the crowds, sought out by the sick. Every single group and person needed him; and he met their needs, but then he what? Yes, that’s right, he retreated (John 6:15). He pulled back to be filled up and we must too. Retreat to the one who does not hassle you but soothes you, empowers you, and fills you.
Retreat on a regular basis – it is what will help you in your resiliency and keep you sustained in your ministry calling. Develop rhythms of retreat daily, weekly, and annually. If you are feeling flat there’s a large chance retreat is what you need.
Be wise about how you do it, what you do in it, and make sure it contains two essentials: time in prayer and time in the Word of God, communing with him. This is not just about mental and physical retreat but spiritual too.
Constant questions and discussions by well meaning, and sometimes not so well meaning, people are just a part of the job. If you are doing ministry in a fallen world and you’re not being hassled, you aren’t doing ministry. While this might weary our souls, consider your calling. God didn’t choose you for your amazingness, but because he loves to use weak, broken people like you and me to further his Kingdom, love his people, and shepherd the flock. God wants resilient, but also tender people to be his ministers to a lost world.
Ultimately, you must stand firm in who you are in Christ and the call God gave you to shepherd his people. The constant battle of questions, comments, and remarks can cause even the most secure of us to not want to get out of bed in the morning. But it is also in this space that, if handled well, we become more vulnerable and aware of our great need for a Savior, and though exhausting, it is also a very good place to be.