It’s right there in the red letters: “That my joy may be in you …”
This is a statement of fact made by Jesus Himself, and yet I’ve encountered so many pastors who haven’t experienced joy in a long time. The man behind the pulpit carries both pastoral and personal burdens, and it can be overwhelming. What once was a thrill becomes drudgery, and one day, pastor, you realize you’ve lost your joy. I know the feeling. Been there.
While I was a pastor, I signed articles and letters with the salutation, “It is a joy to be your pastor.” Once, however, the slightest typo slipped through — a single letter — and communicated something completely different: “It is a job to be your pastor.”
Some days may feel that way and, pastor, that may be where you are right now. The struggle is real so don’t feel guilty. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. So how do you recapture genuine joy if you’ve lost it? How can you say, like Nehemiah in the middle of a great work with spiritual warfare all around, “The joy of the Lord is my strength?”
Here are nine ideas to help you find your way back to joy in the Lord and in ministry.
(1) Get real honest. Take off the ministerial mask and admit to the Lord and yourself that you’ve lost your joy. You’ll not find your way back until you discover where you’ve landed. He wants you to have His peace and His joy. You don’t need to declare it to the world, most will not understand. You will, however, and Jesus already knows.
(2) Make time for Him. Recover the discipline of your time alone with the Lord. Reading the Bible, prayer, confession of sin, being still before Him, being filled with His Spirit all are elements of “abiding in Christ.” It is impossible to lose joy and peace while abiding in Christ. And it is impossible to have real joy if you do not abide in Christ.
(3) Focus on her. The Bible says, “… rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). She still desires to be your loudest cheerleader and greatest raving fan. Turn your attention to her. Treat her with tender love and respect. Romance her. Your marriage is designed by God to be a safe haven during difficult days.
(4) Remember your kids. Long after your last pastorate is over, whether your church is made up of 40 or 4,000, your greatest continuing impact will be as a dad. I used to check my girls out of school and take them to lunch once a week, every week, when they were in elementary grades. As they got older I made a point of having specific times just for them. Let go of everything else and invest in your kids. They keep everything real.
(5) Walk through the nursery. Sometimes on the way to the pulpit I would swing through the nurseries and hang out with the babies. It reminded me that being pastor is about affecting the people coming behind us. And that crew never complained about anything and loved to see the pastor.
(6) Be the King’s ambassador. And don’t forget it. When you enter the pulpit, have a word from the King to deliver for His people. Plan ahead in your preaching. That alone will remove some pressure of Sunday always coming. Take a few days every quarter or so to pray, plan, get a word from God, and prepare.
(7) Celebrate any victory. When I had times of discouragement I would get away from everyone and to a remote Sunday School room and take nothing but a notebook and pen. I would ask the Lord to reveal to me what He was doing. Sometimes it took 20 minutes, sometimes longer, but one-by-one the list of victories being won came. I would leave that time with the Lord in a much different frame of mind — and with more joy. Satan uses trouble to blind us from victories, and it is easy to focus on moments of difficulty rather than wins. Share victories with your people and lead them to rejoice over each no matter how small you think it might be. In ministry, all wins are worth celebrating.
(8) Get lost. I’m not talking in the spiritual sense, but I am talking about a regular time where you shut your phone off and do something different than the pastorate. Hike, fish, work out — it doesn’t really matter. You need to disengage. Even Jesus had to go to a “solitary place” on a regular basis to recharge for the demands of ministry. If that is true for Him, it is certainly true for the rest of us.
(9) Laugh again. I love the biblical truth that laughter really does good like medicine. Chuck Swindoll says he counts it as a wasted day if he hasn’t had at least one gut-busting laugh. Don’t take life and ministry so seriously that you aren’t sensitive to those funny moments in life that offer you a good dose of merry medicine.
Pastor, I am praying for you. I know your challenge and I know ministry can bring a great weight. But I also know it is a great privilege for God to place that calling on our lives, and He wants us to experience joy in Him.
It is truly my joy to be on this journey with you.