If you’re anything like me, you are committed to being in ministry for the long haul. You want to be serving God and people through your ministry for the rest of your life.
Sadly, this is not always the case, as people are dropping out of ministry in record numbers, these days. The reasons why can certainly be discussed and debated (and have been), but I believe that at least one of those reasons has to do with a lack of joy in the journey.
Everyone in ministry, at every level, has times of discouragement, disillusionment, disappointment and …other “disses.” Ministry can often be tough and unrewarding. It requires our best efforts, our best energy and a constant reliance on God’s power to sustain us as we go.
And although it can also be the most rewarding, exhilarating and fulfilling experience of our lives, sometimes we can lose our joy along the way.
Have you lost your joy in ministry? Here are a few suggestions for sparking the embers of joy back into a warm, glowing and attractive flame in your life:
1. Remember your calling.
Go back to the beginning. Reflect on when you said, “Yes” to God and went into ministry. Remember the way you felt, the setting, the people who were around you and the joy and honor of being called into ministry. “Raise your Ebenezer” with some kind of “touch stone” to remind you of those moments, and consider how “hither by His help you’ve come.” (1 Samuel 7:12)
2. Spend some time “officing” in your community.
There’s something about changing your setting, getting out of your office and getting into your community that helps rekindle your vision and remind you of why you’re in ministry.
Every time I “office” out of a coffee shop or a park, I see people wandering around, like “sheep without a shepherd,” and I begin to get refocused. Just being in these kinds of places opens up opportunities for connecting with people who need Jesus, keeps my priorities in order and lessens the weight of the stresses of ministry.
Compassion for others can stir up joy and get our minds off of our ministry “pains” and back onto our purpose and mission. (Matthew 9:36-38)
3. Share Jesus with someone.
Very few things can bring back the joy in ministry like leading someone to place their faith in Jesus and seeing them become a Christ Follower. Pray for the opportunity, and share the Gospel with someone. You may go out with weeping, but you’ll return with shouts of joy. Oh, and there’ll be some joy in heaven, also… (Psalm 126:6, Luke 15:7)
4. Connect with other ministers.
Find other ministers in your area who have the same ministry focus as you do and meet regularly for coffee or breakfast. Share stories and struggles and encourage each other. Sometimes in ministry, only other ministers can really understand what you’re experiencing and can encourage you properly.
It’s also great to know that you’re not the only one who faces these challenges. Let “iron sharpen iron.” Laugh with, pray for, and encourage each other. (Proverbs 27:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and Hebrews 3:13)
5. Find somewhere you can pray/shout/talk out loud with God.
When you’re frustrated, it’s always a good idea to “ventilate vertically,” (to God) rather than “horizontally” (at others). Find a place where no one else can hear you and audibly voice your frustrations to God.
I remember doing this in a big, open field once, during a difficult time when I was planting a church in Texas. I prayed, shouted and talked with God until I was completely spent. I left no frustration in my ministry “un-dealt-with.” I then walked home from that experience with a renewed faith, a sense of peace, and the emotional release that I hadn’t even realized that I had needed.
6. Fill a page with things you are thankful for.
Take a few minutes and write down or type up everything that you have to be thankful for. Give thanks for answered prayer, blessings you have, your family, and for the privilege of serving in your ministry.
Ask yourself, “What do I even have to be thankful for?” then list every possible thing that comes to your mind. Gratitude plants seeds of joy as we reflect on our blessings. (Here’s a list of verses of Scripture to chew on as you go.)
7. Tell someone your testimony.
Tell someone how you became a Christ Follower, how you were called into ministry or even something that God has done in your life or ministry, lately. Sometimes just sharing these kinds of stories out loud with someone else can reignite a flame inside us that has begun to flicker out. Focus more on what God has done than the personal details of your story.
And of course, always explain the hope that you have to someone who asks, but don’t hesitate to share it even if they haven’t asked… (1 Peter 3:15)
8. Eat well, exercise and get some rest.
This isn’t very spiritual sounding, but it is often one of the best things you can do if you’ve begun to lose your joy in ministry. It’s amazing what eating right, adding some exercise and getting a good night’s rest can do to renew your spirit.
Doing these three things has not only renewed my coping abilities, perspective and energy, they have also restored my joy in ministry many times along the way. (1 Kings 19:4-7, Daniel 1:12-16, Psalm 30:5, Lamentations 3:22-23, Mark 2:27)
9. Laugh at the funny things that happen in ministry.
Seriously, some funny things happen in ministry. Stop and remember a few of them that have happened to you along the way. That baptism when the kid jumped in? That time somebody fell asleep and started snoring in the service? That time you read 1 Samuel 25:22 in the King James Version out loud in your service because it was a cross referenced verse, but you hadn’t looked at it beforehand?
Yeah, laugh about those and many others that have happened and that will happen in your ministry.
Find and talk to someone who has been in ministry for over 40 years and ask them the same question that I ask ministers on The Ministry Backpack Podcast – “What’s one of the funniest things that’s happened to you in ministry?” You won’t be disappointed. And a good laugh is a good doorway back to joy. (Psalm 118:24)
10. Spend some time with children.
Don’t be creepy, but find a safe place to watch and/or interact with small children. Notice how they play and are filled with wonder at the smallest of things. Observe the simple and pure, unfiltered joy that kids display so much better than grownups do.
Remember a joyful moment at Christmas or some other time when you were a kid. Drop your guard and set aside the stresses of ministry while getting a lesson on joy from these little ones. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these, after all. (Luke 18:16)
11. Ask God to fill you with His joy.
Could it really be this simple? Maybe it’s not an immediate solution in every situation, but it’s certainly the best step in the right direction. And it could also be that, in relation to joy, we “have not because we ask not.”
If the joy in your ministry has started to melt away, maybe it’s time to simply, directly and clearly ask the Lord to first “restore unto you the joy of your salvation,” and then let your ministry flow out of that.