Riding the Ministry Roller Coaster

All ministries have seasons of peaks and valleys, but there’s a sustaining secret to the journey that’s easy to overlook.

Leadership and ministry can feel like a roller coaster. You go at break-neck speed through lots of twists and turns, and as hard as you try, you can’t see what is ahead. One situation goes exactly as you predict; the next one plunges into something else entirely. You face emotional ups and downs—walking with friends through personal tragedies, grieving with some and celebrating with others. This is the roller coaster of ministry, and there is no way around it.

However, we often experience more exaggerated highs and lows because of the pressure to lead a more “spectacular” ministry. We ride high as church attendance, decisions and giving rise, and we plunge low when they don’t. Sometimes we read about incredible ministries and rather than feel energized, we feel frustrated. Suddenly everything we are doing looks … less. We may feel drained and defeated. We thought things were going okay until we saw how well they were going everywhere else! The pressure for a spectacular ministry can lead us into unnecessary emotional ups and downs and steal our joy. This is a reality for all kinds of ministry leaders and for churches of all sizes and styles. So I want to share some practices that can help on the roller coaster of ministry.

Focus on Faithfulness

When Paul talks about having a spectacular ministry, he notes how much more important it is to have a faithful heart. Some attack his ministry and character, so he seeks to give his friends the ability to respond to his haters. He writes, “God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart” (2 Cor. 5:11-12, NLT).

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Paul makes a distinction between a “spectacular ministry” and a “sincere heart.” He simply and powerfully reminds us that what is most important is not our fruitfulness but our faithfulness. In fact, our responsibility before God is a spectacular ministry but a faithful and sincere heart.

Now, please don’t misread me. I’m all for results. I want to do everything I can to remove barriers that keep others from knowing Jesus and his life-giving salvation. I believe in counting most everything in our ministry so we can measure our effectiveness. I love to see progress and welcome accountability. However, in the end, a significant portion of ministry can’t be reduced to simple attendance and growth numbers. As I focus on being faithful first, it has a way of leveling me out from all the unnecessary ups and downs. I also think it allows our ministry to be more fruitful over the long haul.

Stay Compelled by Jesus’ Love

Every ministry and church will go through up and down seasons. Paul shares the secret of how he kept going in the face of those who questioned his motives and even his sanity. He writes, “Either way, Christ’s love controls us,” (2 Cor. 5:14, NLT). You can do the work of God for a lot of reasons—the praise of people, public recognition, loyalty to others, etc.—but the only thing that keeps you going through the ups and downs is the love of Christ. Because of Jesus’ love, every person matters, every size church matters, every number matters and every heart matters.

Let’s commit our hearts to be faithful and sincere before God, compelled by Christ’s love, and we’ll find ourselves enjoying the journey again while celebrating every victory in God’s kingdom.

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Jud Wilhite is The New York Times bestselling author of Pursued: God’s Divine Obsession With You (FaithWords) and senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Henderson, Nevada.