If you’re feeling weary, you’re not alone. Drawing from Galatians 6:9, Peter Haas says the ability to encourage oneself is a successful pastor’s greatest skill. In this article, Haas shares what he has learned about encouragement that combats weariness and prevents ministry casualties.
Recently, I told my nine-year-old son to take off his shoes before changing his pants. “I shouldn’t have to take my shoes off in order to change my pants!” he declared, as he tripped around wildly in his undies. A few moments later, he was weeping on the floor. Both of his shoes were firmly wedged in his homemade Chinese finger trap. And as the drama unfolded, I realized: This is the perfect metaphor for a lot of pastors I coach.
Just like my son, we all have dreams of defying the odds! We’re going to plant that church, hire that staff, build that building! Yet, there we are—weeping in our undies. If this is you today, let me encourage you: No matter how good a leader you are, all of us will have this moment. And just like my son, you’ll want to give up.
I’ve noticed that weariness is especially common to church planters today. After all, entrepreneurial leaders are idealists: I can do it better!, we often think. We believe the impossible is possible–the very factor that causes many of us to plant. But guess what? Idealism can also set us up for monumental disappointment.
Because I’ve lived it and continue to see it, I often tell planters, the ability to encourage oneself is one of the greatest skills of a successful pastor. Certainly, there are other important skills. But weariness creates more ministry casualties than anything else. That’s why the true secret to church growth is simple: “Don’t grow weary, for at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!” (Gal. 6:9).
I told my son, “You can’t give up on wearing pants and shoes!” I’ll tell you the same thing: Don’t quit pastoring! Don’t grow weary. You simply need to learn how to stay encouraged. Here are three critical habits I’ve learned:
Don’t compare cities or resources. When my church, Substance, first broke 2,000 members, we only had about 80 members giving anything in the offering. My nine-year- old daughter somehow made it into our top givers list! Surely, my church needed discipleship in this area. But every time I’d compare my church or my city to others, I’d get overwhelmed and discouraged. So here’s the solution: Stop comparing!
In Revelation 2:13, Jesus says to the church at Pergamum: “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne yet you have remained loyal to me.” Think about that! You thought your city was tough! Imagine if you chose to plant in the very place Satan had his throne.
After planting in Minneapolis, I have wondered numerous times: Did Satan call up U-Haul and relocate next to my church plant! But here’s my point: Not all cities are the same. Clearly, cities have varying levels of discipleship and demonic oppression.
Don’t get me wrong; leadership will humble you no matter where you live. But avoid the toxic comparisons of cities, church sizes and resources. Jesus said to Pergamum: “I know where you live!” and went on to promise them special rewards and provisions for staying faithful despite the circumstantial resistance, which leads us to the second way to stay encouraged.
Ditch your timeline for God’s timeline. The greatest leadership accomplishments of Moses didn’t start until he was 80 years old! So chill out! God has a perfect timeline for all of us. Paul said, “At the proper time, you will reap a harvest.” Don’t presume to know it. Most overnight successes were often 20 years in the making. We see other people’s highlight reels but rarely their workout routines, disasters or wanderings.
Get a lot of pastor friends! Even after I figured out how to do fundraising in my church context, it took us over five years to purchase a property! I had nine properties fall through—either because the soil turned out to be toxic, or the city refused to allow us to purchase it. As a result, we went into an excruciating four-year plateau. We had $5 million in the bank yet couldn’t spend it to save our lives.
To make matters worse, we had several awkward staff transitions during that season, which caused a lot of people to quit our church. Almost a third of our church left in a two-year window! I felt like King David in exile. I was a leader with lots of losses and very little credibility. I can’t even begin to tell you how dark that season was for me.
Thankfully, David had friends: “Jonathan, son of Saul, went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Sam.23:16). In a similar way, I had lots of pastor friends in the ARC call to encourage me. And sure enough, my breakthrough happened: We landed a 105,000-square-foot building for $2.3 million. Momentum returned. And we’re now were back in an explosive season. But we never would have made it without the right friends.
As Pastor Greg Surratt has told me many times, “In ministry, discouragement is an occupational hazard.” There will be times you’ll be tempted to “quit on pants” so to speak. But listen: God has a plan for you. And if you hold on, “at the proper time, you will reap a harvest!”