1. Frustration. When we see things moving forward, when we see progress, we all tend to get encouraged. The opposite is also true. When things seem to slow to a snail’s pace, or when there seems to be an invisible blockade in our path, then frustration can set in. It has been said that we over-estimate what can be achieved in a single sermon, but under-estimate the impact of five year’s of solid biblical teaching. But sometimes it is the years of ministry without significant progress that wears us down. It is easy to lose sight of the progress among some, even many, when our thoughts become dominated by one, or a few.
And when we start to feel that what we are giving ourselves to cannot be achieved, then we are very much in danger of burning out. I remember, as a child, blocking the progress of a scalextric (slot) car on the track. The engine made noise, but it wasn’t long before a smell of burning electrics started to exude. Some preachers feel like that, and burnout is a very real and present danger.
2. Failure. Sometimes it isn’t just a sense of frustration that builds in us. A loss of the sense of progress. Sometimes it is outright failure. It can be the failure of others. It can be our own failure. A poorly aimed sermon or two, a misjudged application. What about getting distracted, or failing to prepare properly? Then what about personal struggles? The moral failure of someone we esteem. The moral vulnerability of our own inner struggles. We don’t have to look far to see failure and feel discouraged. Sometimes the mirror is far enough.
3. Fatigue. In the toil of ministry, combined with family life, all in the context of intensified spiritual battle, fatigue is an ever-present danger. But fatigue is a symptom, and it can be the symptom of many different issues. I remember Bill Hybels referring to the warning lights on the dashboard of his life. He assumed the warning light meant a spiritual problem (inadequacy of devotions, for instance), but found the issue was emotional, relational. It could be physical. Sleep. Nutrition. Exercise. There are many factors underlying this one.
4. Fear. Ministry is not always experienced on the mountain top. Often it is in the valley. A dark one. Lots of threats. Rumours of threats. Unseen enemies and breaking twigs. We minister in the context of spiritual warfare, and in the context of our own struggles and weaknesses. Whether the enemy is directly attacking or not, we can so easily look away from the Lord to the perceived threat, into the darkness. Faith is not a commodity we collect or an inner power we muster. It is a fixed trusting gaze. When that gaze shifts, fear can flood in.
Tomorrow we’ll think about responding to discouragement.