What Killed My Joy in Pastoral Ministry

In my darkest times of pastoral depression, I was reminded of such verses as Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

I’d buck up my spirit, manufacture some joy type thing, and get back to it. Except it never lasted. I used to think this was a lack in my spiritual growth, and that’s possible, I’m not perfect. But the more I think about it, the problem wasn’t the joy part; the problem was the persecution part.

No one treated me that bad. Sure there were some unfriendly moments and comments. I did get hurt pretty bad by some people, but those times were spread over 21 years. It really wasn’t that bad. The real problem wasn’t rejection and hatred; the thing that got me most was being ignored. Hardly anyone cared.

It makes me think of Revelation and the Church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I know there are many theories about what this means. In recent years it’s cool to talk about an irrigation system up in the mountains with cold water and yadda, yadda, yadda. That illustration sounds too good to be true. Without doing any fact checking, it sure smells fake.

We don’t like saying that God wishes people were on or off, that it’s better to be an unflinching, confident unbeliever. But I don’t know. From my experience, I can totally see it being that. I love it when someone responded to Christ and the Word, I loved being a part of helping people see more. I did not like outright rejection, yet I also knew where the person stood. It was easier to take than lying ambivalence and apathy. That drove me nuts.

If you want to know the main cause of my pastoral depression and eventual resignation, I’d chalk it up to luke-warmness. “Pick a side!” I wanted to yell. “How long will you halt between two opinions?” Or as James put it, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Choose you this day whom you will serve.

The people in the middle, the ones who sort of came and sort of listened and played the game and said the same things and had the same problems, they defeated me. The ones who were always stuck, always learning and never coming to the truth, they ate me up inside. The ones who wanted to sin and then have the church or me absolve them so they could get back to sinning again. It tore me up.

This futility, this pointlessness, this vanity of the whole thing made me tap out. I did not leap for joy under persecution because I didn’t get any persecution. I just got nothing followed by more nothing. Twenty one years of nothing. Deadness. Apathy. There was no discernible point. I doubt I would have enjoyed persecution and hatred more than apathy, but there would have at least been something to hang my hat on. I could have felt part of the great cloud of witnesses, to have been numbered with the prophets. That would be sweet.

Instead, I was ignored. There was nothing to feed my joy. There were few successes. There were few rejections. Just blah. Blah does not lead to joy. I’m hoping there will be a reward in heaven for talking to walls. I won’t count on it, but it would be nice. If there is one, I will definitely leap for joy then because I got lots of that reward coming.

8 thoughts on “What Killed My Joy in Pastoral Ministry

  1. I agree with you totally. Being ignored is more painful and disspiriting than being hated or loved. I would MUCH rather someone outright not like me or like me than being “just there” with no indication of how they feel about me and my teaching, beliefs or whatever I say.

    I agree…take a side! You can’t sit on the fence forever.

    (😉It would get rather uncomfortable pretty fast in my mind.😉)

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  2. Good post. Somebody smart once said, “the opposite of love is not hatred, it’s indifference.”

    I was once pretty apathetic about my faith and indifferent towards God and what that really is, is dishonest. I kept God at a distance mostly because I was angry. Rather then going to Him hot and angry or cold and angry, I just kept Him on the other side of the cosmos.

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  3. Since when is the pastor supposed to be edified? I always thought the pastor was to BE the edifier. I think your whole problem is that you didn’t really understand what pastoring was all about. Pastoring is about the people not yourself. I don’t think you really love people. I read your blog and twitter all the time and all I see is a man who allowed the ministry to beat him up – rather than allowing Christ to work through him. I too am a preachers kid and in my late 40’s am just now to the place in my life where I’m allowing myself to become a SENIOR pastor and it’s all because I never came to that place until now where I truly love people. They’re bad, they’re ugly, they’re smart asses and much more…guess what…so was I until I allowed the HS to come in and really start softening my heart.

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