To stay in the ministry any length of time, a pastor needs to learn to fight some predictable “demons.”
For instance, Monday mornings for pastors and spiritual leaders are unique. They bring with them an adrenalin crash that feels like you got hit by a train (emotionally) during the night. Sunday’s expenditure of energy—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally—lands on Monday morning with reflections that are both good and bad, positive and negative.
On one hand, there are the great takeaways of a day of worship—the afterglow of the corporate worship, the encouragement of Christian fellowship, the warmth of the church body being together. There’s reminiscing upon decisions that were made, people that came to Jesus, and new guests that you met and pray will grow in grace. There’s the reflection upon the powerful word of God that was studied together and the ways it shaped your heart. It’s good having been in church with God’s family.
In all of this, the hearts smiles.
On the other hand, the depleted reservoir of physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational energy can play games with your head. The “Monday morning crash” can instigate an internal conversation that is despairing. You can begin to rehearse the sermon—regretting the stuttering, the struggle to find the right words. You can second guess every phrase, illustration, and application. You seem to only recall the things you wish you hadn’t said or that you would rephrase or say differently. You can only focus on the moment you made such a dork of yourself. You replay the message in your head. Should it have been shorter or longer? Should I have said…? You really wish you could rewind and try all over again.
In this, the heart almost never smiles.
Recently, I asked a group of long-time pastors about their greatest struggles over the years and how they remained joyful and faithful in their call. One man very transparently and insightfully said, “I think the hardest part of this call is feeling most days like I’m a failure.” He indicated during the conversation that nearly every week of his more than 30 years as a pastor, he felt as though he was failing. Obviously, his faithfulness was not tied to the perception of success or measurable, visible fruit in ministry.
Ironically, this man leads a healthy church, has a wonderful testimony, enjoys a broad influence, and has faithfully served his Saviour for many decades. He is a walking success story. Yet, personally he experiences an internal conversation—an incriminating narrative that works against him—“demons.” Those “demons” tell him he is not successful and work daily to drag his emotions into feelings of failure.
I was grateful for this man’s transparency—primarily because I identified with it! I believe most pastors have this same experience because we are engaged in a spiritual/soul kind of work that is hard to measure and even harder to fully understand. The reward of our labor will only be clearly seen in eternity, and until then, the harvest from the seeds we sow and cultivate isn’t always clearly seen.
This story, and others like it, provoked me to make a short list of “demons” that I and most (if not all) pastors fight. For me, identifying the lie is 99% of the battle! Here is my short list. What would you add?
Inspection—We try to look at our daily work and see fruit. It’s never as visible up close as it is looking back over many years. Therefore, the immediate, up-close inspection tends to be discouraging, which leads to… (Galatians 6:9)
Introspection—This is deeper than “inspection” in that it begins to question the validity of our work and ministry. We start to entertain questions like: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Does anything I’m doing make any difference?” “Is there any growth from my preaching and preparation?” Introspection becomes… (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Deception—If I entertain the doubts for very long, they become accusations and lies. They begin to feel substantive. The doubts begin to set, like drying concrete—they metastasize into hardened, heart-shaping conclusions like, “I am failing. I am not effective. I should quit now. I should try something else.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Expectation—This is the parent of ministry disappointment. Expectation is “what I thought God would do” or “what I thought I deserved” or “how I pictured everything unfolding.” Expectations unrealized give birth to disappointment and despair. Our script isn’t unfolding the way we wrote it; therefore, we are disappointed. Surrendering to God means surrendering expectations and resting in His outcomes. (Hebrews 6:15)
Isolation—All of these previous experiences mount up internally to assault the soul, and the typical response is isolation. This is where I go when all the other demons begin to get the best of me. Despair leads to self-pity which causes me to pull away from people and lick my wounds in self-segregation and seclusion. By the way, this is not the same as healthy, soul-nurturing solitude. Being alone with God is a wonderful thing. Being alone in self-pity is destructive and oppressive. (Psalm 73)
Condemnation—Once isolated, Satan is relentless in accusations—again, all unfolding in a silent, internal conversation in first person. “I’m a failure.” Bear in mind, highly successful, highly fruitful, long-faithful pastors experience these internal accusations on a regular basis—which should unveil to us the deceptive spiritual warfare that’s really going on here. (1 John 3:20–21)
Comparison—There’s always someone seemingly doing better than I am—someone who appears to be more (fill in the blank…). We lose sight of the blessings of our lives and begin to perceive another’s blessings as better or bigger—always a lie, always discouraging. There’s no winning a comparison game. We aren’t designed for comparison—we are called to each run an individual race. (2 Corinthians 10:12)
Cynicism—Comparison fuels cynicism—my way of discounting another to feel better about myself. The fact that we’re all pathetic apart from Jesus gives us all plenty of ammunition with which to scoff or scorn another. We are all susceptible to developing cynical or scornful hearts towards others, ourselves, and toward life or ministry in general. Past hurts, disappointments, betrayals, or bitterness can devolve into scorn and anger toward anything or anyone that reminds me of “what bothers me.” In my opinion, a cynical heart is among the deadliest poisons to true and lasting Christian joy.
Eight demons—inspection, introspection, deception, expectation, isolation, condemnation, comparison, cynicism. Do you ever wrestle with these like I do? All of them are contrary to the real work of Jesus through your life and ministry.
Here’s the good news—resist Satan, and he will flee! (James 4:7) Seriously, these “demons” are only as powerful as you allow them to be. Only you can control the internal narrative. Only you can control your social media stream, and which ones you read. Only you can avoid these destructive ruts of thinking.
It’s a daily battle, but you can begin trading every one of these “ruts” for biblical realities. Trade inspection for faith that God is working where you can’t see Him. Trade introspection for personal development—reaching forward and forgetting the past. Trade isolation for godly friendship and fellowship that fosters encouragement in your heart. Trade condemnation for celebration—looking up to Jesus rather than within to self. Trade comparison for rejoicing with them that rejoice—strong enough in your gospel identity that you can legitimately rejoice for another’s blessings. Trade cynicism for charity—which hopes, believes, and celebrates the good.
This may all sound sappy, but I prefer to live with joy than bitterness. I want to crush these demons every day and to live in the light of hope and faith. These “demons” are real, but Jesus is greater! What demons would you add to this list? What friend can you encourage by forwarding this article?
Go chase off some “demons”!
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)