The Ministry Roller Coaster: 6 Tips to Stay On the Ride

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If you want a long-run ministry, you must learn to navigate a wide range of emotions.

Life is emotional. But for those of us in ministry, it feels like it’s even a little more emotional.

That’s true even for those of us who think of ourselves as more rational than emotional. Sometimes we get surprised by how intense ministry can become. I started out in my twenties as a lawyer, so emotion wasn’t really a huge part of my wiring.

But within a few years of beginning ministry, I realized that if I didn’t figure out how to navigate the emotions of ministry, I probably wouldn’t make it in the long run.

And looking back on my time in ministry so far,  I can honestly say the biggest crises I’ve had to navigate have not been spiritual or vocational nearly as much as they’ve been emotional.

What I mean by that is, I didn’t know how to emotionally cope with the demands of my calling.

My biggest challenges for both paid staff and volunteers seem to involve handling the pressures, challenges and criticisms of ministry.

It is helpful to drill down on the reasons why ministry is emotionally draining for so many.

So, to that end: Why is ministry so emotional for so many?

Here’s my theory. Ministry combines three areas of life that are intensely personal:

  • Your faith
  • Your work
  • Your community

Because of that, it gets confusing.

  • What you do is what you believe.
  • What you believe is what you do.
  • Your friends are also the people you serve and lead.

Throw your family into the mix (because they believe what you believe, and are friends with the people you/they lead and serve) and bam—it’s even more confusing.

Because of this, things that normally happen ‘at work’ very seldom stay ‘at work.’

Here are three common pitfalls many ministry leaders struggle with:

1. Disagreements at Home.

You and your spouse end up arguing about being out ‘one more night’ at a meeting or event. But because ‘what you do is what you believe,’ you feel that staying home is somehow being ‘unfaithful’ to God.

2. Taking Criticism Personally.

You get an email or comment criticizing something you said in a message, and you’re really bothered by it. It’s more troubling because you’re not sure whether it means you’ve somehow failed God, not just your employer. And then, guess what? You bring that home to your spouse, who also loves God. Repeat that pattern multiple times and your spouse can end up resenting the very place that’s supposed to be her spiritual home and the spiritual home of your kids.

3. Friendship. 

One of the worst forms of hurt can come when someone you consider to be a friend becomes a critic of your ministry. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and it hurts deeply. When people you share your life with quietly (or not so quietly) start to work against you, it’s very difficult to navigate.

Carey Nieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof is Lead Pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada, blogs at www.careynieuwhof.com and is host of The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast available for free on iTunes.

More from Carey Nieuwhof or visit Carey at http://careynieuwhof.com

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.fahring Jason Fahring

    So VERY true! Great insight…Thank you!

  • $23313105

    Awesome insight.God given for sure. Hit me on every point. Thank you.

  • Ridin’ the Ride

    35 years on the roller coaster have brought me to the following conclusions.
    My congregation wants me to be their pastor, but have no interest in me as a person.
    Without exception, I have regretted every time I’ve trusted someone other than my wife, so I don’t anymore.
    There is no such thing as just being friends – at some point I will be asked for counsel. I can never get away from it.

    Since I have more years behind me than in front of me, I will just ride it out.

    I didn’t think this is how it would be, but I’m just too tired to try any more…..

    • Peter Mahoney

      Broken for you… praying bitterness hasn’t already taken root.

    • Neale

      Amen. I’m there.

    • Trevor

      Your in good company my friend, your story is found from Genesis to revelation and the following 2000 years. Ministry is death so that others may live, walking in the steps of Jesus. It hurts, but keep your heart and you’ll keep your reward. You have one friend who will never let you down.

  • deandeguara

    Great list Carey. A couple things that has helped me is to refuse to do any church related work on my day off and to blow a vacation day here an there just because!

  • NaNTHuel

    …and ponder THe Navigations 0f 0ur GardeneD Hearts…a 12:1 Bypass. Thankyou

  • Art Good

    Don’t just develop a hobby or interest outside of work, but develop a LIFE outside of work. Don’t make work your life. Let it be what it is – your work.

    • Trevor

      Ministry is not a job, its a life embracing calling. It’s not like working for an insurance company.

  • peterhamm

    Sabbath appropriately. Working on your sermon or reading a theological or leadership resource on your day off is NOT doing it right.

  • Alts

    I thank you for this wonderful thought you have shared, I agree for all the good points that help to counter all negative emotions that would hinder or become a major cause of discouragement that finally, flared up to exhaust libido in doing the ministry. Thanks

  • CaroyPepe Vega

    THANK YOU!! MAY GOD BLESS YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE FOR BLESSING US!!! Thank you very much for giving us hope and light!

  • Samuel Olaleye

    SPECIAL REQUEST: I have been a follower of this page for more than one year and I have compiled many of the articles for my ministry. I started to feel recently that these are good ministry resources that can be shared with my fellow ministers. Do I have your permission to reproduce these and share with my colleagues especially those who don’t have access to internet as I do? I will give credit as appropriate.

  • deandeguara

    Writing, exercise and outside relationships have helped me. Emotional stress effects so many other areas of our life. More than I realized.Great post!