After 16 years in ministry, I’ve experienced my fair share of highs and lows.
I’ve experienced great joy because of new salvations, baptisms, and the growth of a church plant that in one month went from 12 members to more than 60! I’ve seen God working and moving in, through, and all around me. Every year, I look forward to going on youth retreats and seeing kids come home to become positive and passionate influences for God’s kingdom in their homes and schools. These are good times—these are some very high highs.
I’ve also felt helpless and worthless, and I’ve experienced great emotional distress. I felt this way when I was called back to church by the senior pastor (interrupting a meeting with a family where the mother had just had major surgery to remove a cancer-riddled kidney), and I had to sit across from him in his office and be ripped apart. He used all kinds of profanity and threatened me with physical violence . . . because there wasn’t enough of one of the main entrees at a church dinner the night before. (By the way, the food had all been donated by a congregant’s catering business.) I left that senior pastor’s office terrified and in tears. I had suffered through three years of emotional abuse from this guy, but when I heard threats of physical harm, I started worrying about what to do next: Should I leave? Is there someone I can go to about this? This was a very low low.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that have helped me deal with the highs and lows of ministry:
Celebrate and commemorate the highs!
In the Old Testament, God’s people celebrated his help and victories. They laid an ebenezer (this wasn’t the old crotchety guy from A Christmas Carol—it was a pillar or other easily seen marker) in places where God had done something miraculous. The word ebenezer means “To this point, the Lord has helped us.” This stone of remembrance served to remind everyone of how God had moved and what he had done.
These reminders are important, because though you may have just had a mountaintop experience, that might be followed by a very long and deep valley. Having reminders of God’s goodness and his power in your life and in your ministry will help you through those valleys.
Don’t go through it alone.
Whether you’re experiencing a high or a low, share it with others. Be wise about who you share these things with, but don’t go through them alone. I have a friend in Texas who I call when I experience highs or lows, and he does the same with me. Because we celebrate together, we’re able to remind each other of our highs when we’re going through the lows. When I went through my hardest times, I frequently reached out to him. I shared my fears and concerns, and we prayed together. Having a friend who listened and prayed helped me walk through those difficult years.
Also share your highs and lows with your spouse. If you hide your feelings or what you’re experiencing from the person closest to you, it will shut him or her out and create division, tension, or distrust. But look in other places for advice—your husband or wife may be too emotionally connected to your feelings or to the situation to be able to step back and properly evaluate what’s going on.
Pray with your spouse, pray with elders, pray with staff, and pray with congregants. The more you seek God, the more you will find him and be given his wisdom.
Be vulnerable and open—but don’t gossip.
When you’re hurting, it can be hard to be open and vulnerable. I tend to close off, isolate myself, and not deal with anything except my own emotions. But doing that only makes things worse. Most of the time, others know there’s something wrong anyway. If you’re open and vulnerable, it will open doors for others to be able to minister to, encourage, and walk with you. It also blesses others when you let them in.
Be aware of what information you’re giving.
If the person listening to you can’t do anything to change the situation, you’re just complaining. When you’re talking about something someone else has done or said, you’re gossiping, and there aren’t too many things that will divide a church as well as gossip will.
Remember, you’re just as much a member of Christ’s body as the rest of the church.
When you hurt, others should hurt with you—and when you celebrate, others should celebrate with you! Do unto others as you would have done to you, and allow others to do for you as you would do for them.
Andy Hastie is a youth and associate pastor at a church in northern New Jersey. He has more than 16 years of ministry experience as a youth worker, youth pastor, senior pastor/church planter, and associate pastor. He works closely with the children’s ministry as well, because his wife, Darea, is the part-time children’s/special needs/family ministry director. They have a son, Joshua, and a daughter, Gianna. Find him on Twitter @AndyHastie30.