4 Ways to Keep Leading When You Are Discouraged

How are you? 

It is a simple question that reveals a lot when you ask a leader in the church. Leaders have faced the challenge of a pandemic and people not returning to the local church. They have been dealt spiritual body blows when a long-term member leaves and cites the leader’s preaching and teaching as lacking. Understandably, ministry creates change, just the nature of the calling makes a change, but change is hard when a pastor has poured everything into the local church only to be or feel rejected. With change, the leader faces more questions about whether they should move on or stay put in their current assignment.

Leaders today are facing discouragement and are asked if they will continue in their ministry assignment or leave ministry altogether. In a hard season, one must remember that a harvest is just around the corner if the leader is willing to stick to God’s calling and do ministry work. 

Keep Tilling the Soil.

Why is ministry so hard? Where are all the people? Who is going to serve in needed positions in the church? I have been asked these and other questions. I have had to realize that ministry has never been easy. Even before Christ walked this earth, the soil has been hard to share the gospel and live it out. 

God has called you to keep tilling the soil. Tilling can look like starting a small group Bible study, sharing a meal with neighbors on your street, being an encourager in the workplace, or donating your time to a non-profit.

As a leader, you work the ground (your current members, neighbors, coworkers, etc.) that you have now and trust God to bring new members out of what you do today. Like a garden, it is in late fall that the ground is fertilized and tilled one last time before springtime preparations that will come after a long, cold winter. Tilling is about preparing; your harvest will come when you prepare the spiritual ground for future guests and your current members to grow spiritually. 

Keep Praying for Lost Souls.

How is your prayer life? That one question struck me as odd but profound when my mentor asked it. How about you? How is your prayer life? You are busy praying for others as a leader, but what about your needs? Prayer must not be a two- or three-minute part of a service but ongoing communication with Christ daily. 

Everyone you encounter can be part of your prayer movement throughout the day. Prayer is essential to stem the tide of discouragement and sows seeds for a future harvest. Prayer must be more than just a ritual; it must become a habit exercised daily. 

God has people in the places you visit throughout the week that need a relationship with him. But, far too many people are so busy living life that they are missing the essential ingredient for their spiritual life, a relationship with Jesus. Begin to pray daily for opportunities to live out your faith. Ask God to open the door to connect as you meet random strangers. 

Use these “chance moments” as God moments when you can impact a stranger’s life. Pray for these moments before you leave the car and enter a store. Pray that God would lead you to encourage or support a person in need as you walk around. Sometimes we think it has to be a program for it to be effective when all God is asking us to do, is live our life out like Jesus. Pray, seek, love, give, and share your faith.

Keep Preparing for the Harvest to Come.

As you begin to walk more comfortably in your faith, understand that there may be seasons of dryness when you do not see fruit from the seeds that are being planted. Let me encourage you to keep pressing on. The harvest that God has for your ministry will come in God’s timing, so stay faithful. Stay prayed up. Stay focused on reaching the lost, one personal interaction at a time. I have often wondered how much of the harvest I missed because I became complacent and forgot to keep preparing for the harvest. 

As lead pastor at an established church celebrating 80 years this year, I am constantly looking for new ways to freshen up the church’s footprint to be a welcoming place for guests. From an indoor trick-or-treat to transforming a classroom into a coffee shop, the space God has given us has adapted to meet our current season. Let me encourage you, instead of being discouraged at what the church does not have, begin to dream about what can be in the space you have and prepare for the harvest to come. 

Keep Being Faithful.

A mentor shared seven words that radically changed my ministry a decade ago; I believe it can impact you also. “You are doing better than you realize.” Leader, remember you are leading well. You are leading like Jesus. Do not give in to the negative voice in your head or the person in the pew. Focus on the main thing. Keep preaching and relationally teaching the gospel. Stay focused on living out the gospel one conversation or service at a time. Be faithful in season and out of season. 

Think about it this way—how many people, pastors and churches have missed the harvest because they gave up too soon? God has amazing plans for your ministry and the life of your church if you are willing to plot along doing the work to prepare for what is to come. There will be days of great joy and deep disappointment, but through it, all know God sees you, hears your prayers and is preparing a harvest to come.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.