In 1 Kings 19, we see one of God’s greatest servants at his lowest moment. Coming directly after his mountaintop victory over the corrupt King Ahab, his evil wife Jezebel, and 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), Elijah is reeling. My mind can’t compute the emotional rollercoaster Elijah must have been riding during this time in his life and ministry.
The prophet witnessed God literally sending fire and rain from heaven, and handily crushing his enemies. But within days, Elijah was running from blood-thirsty Queen Jezebel and was overcome with despair. Depressed, dejected, and disappointed, he collapsed under a broom tree and sought his earthly demise. The same prophet that experienced God’s miraculous hand of provision through a raven, a poor widow, fire, and rain was now throwing in his prophetic mantle.
However, by God’s grace, Elijah’s narrative doesn’t end under the tree. 1 Kings 19:6 tells us, “And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.” God met Elijah’s physical need as a gentle reminder of his sovereignty and care. He met Elijah at his lowest point and lifted him from despair. And God restored him and brought him home to glory without the taste of physical death (2 Kings 2:11). Despite a dark moment, Elijah finished well. The good news is still good, even when life and ministry don’t feel good. Click To Tweet
I’ve had a few “broom tree” moments in the last few years. No, I didn’t want my life to end, but I’ve been overtaken by despair and disappointment that was crushing like Elijah’s experience. But, by God’s grace, I’ve not once been left there. I am forever grateful that the same message of hope I preach still routinely rescues me. That same old message that saved me in 2001 ministers to my soul, offers new and sustaining mercies, and will take me to glory, too. The good news is still good, even when life and ministry don’t feel good.
I’ve noticed that unmet and unrealistic expectations in my ministry frequently push me to despair and disappointment. The unfortunate reality is that my ministry didn’t turn out how I thought it would. After several years of pastoral ministry, I’m actually surprised when my expectations are met or even exceeded.
We can’t escape disappointment, but we can deal with it in a way that is helpful rather than harmful. Here are three habits I practice to combat disappointment in ministry.
1. Look for usual evidences of grace.
I define usual evidences of grace as things God did or is currently doing that are subtle, small, or a surprise. We are often focused on personal expectations or trapped in future casting, and we overlook the obvious things the Lord is doing in his church. We righty celebrate baptisms and often lament a lack thereof, but miss the small steps people are making in their walks with Jesus. We should be unashamed gospel cheerleaders and make noise whenever the Lord does anything for his glory in his church.
2. Tailor your expectations to your ministry context.
It’s easy to get comparison paralysis when looking at others, but I must remember I don’t intimately know the challenges of others—I only know the unique challenges of my ministry context. Pastoring in the inner city is overwhelming at times. I’m not saying church planting in another ministry context is easy or easier than being in an urban context. But in my experience, engaging in ministry in the inner city presents unique and undeniable challenges. We should be unashamed gospel cheerleaders and make noise whenever the Lord does anything for his glory in his church. Click To Tweet
The urban context’s cycles of generational poverty, immense violence and crime, and corrupt, broken economic and educational systems add to pastoral and church-planting challenges. In moments of discouragement, I’m reminded we are shining a glimmer of light in the gross darkness in our community.
3. Celebrate what the Lord is doing outside of your ministry.
One of the quickest, most irrefutable ways to combat my disappointment is to look at what the Lord is doing in my global Acts 29 community. Working with Acts 29 Urban and Church in Hard Places has given me a front-row seat to the Lord’s church advancing worldwide. It is hard to wallow in discouragement when I look up and see all Christ is doing for his glory across the globe.
Although disappointment is inevitable, it can be managed and leveraged for growth. By employing regular habits of reflection, assessing expectations, and celebrating God’s work outside our contexts, we can move forward and fight against overwhelming discouragement. I know it’s hard, but don’t give in to ministry discouragement. Fight back. It’s worth it.