1Ki 19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
God saved me at fifteen years of age and called me to preach when I was seventeen; I enrolled in Bible college and graduated four years later. Three years after that, I was ordained to the gospel ministry two days before my twenty-fifth birthday; one month later we held the first service for the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Wylie, Texas, with a whopping attendance of eleven people, counting my family of four. A few days ago, I turned thirty-seven. I am not a gray-haired veteran, although my hair is heading that direction. However, I do believe strongly that we should share our experiences with others, for their benefit, and that we should be transparent, so that others can be helped, not only by our victories, but also by our difficulties and even our failures.
I would like to say that I have never been discouraged, but in fact I am thankful that I have known the shade of a few juniper trees, and have received the ministration of angels to carry me through to another day of service. Elijah was a greater man than any I know today, and yet was a man of like passions as us; after praying down fire and rain he sat down under the juniper tree and tried to pray himself to death. He tried to commit suicide by prayer! If such a man as the Prophet of Fire could feel the cold grip of discouragement, then I should not be surprised if it one day grips my own heart. Many young preachers, however, fall to discouragement. They do not come out from the juniper tree. They miss God’s appointment at Mount Horeb; they do not hear the still small voice; they miss the Elishas that God has for them to train in the future; they miss the miracles yet to be performed; they miss the chariots of fire and whirlwind to come because when they came to a juniper tree of discouragement, the discouragement defeated them.
If I may share some thoughts, here are ten reasons why many young preachers become discouraged:
- They were not prepared for the difficulties of ministry. If I had a dollar for every time I said, “They didn’t teach me this in Bible college,” I would be a rich man. If the ministry was easy, there would not be so many ex-preachers selling insurance and used cars. It is not easy; there are many difficulties, especially if you are a church planter, that may have never been covered in a college class. People problems alone have broken many a preacher or his family. Because of that, I recommend that every young preacher and his wife read “Pastor Abusers.”
- They may have an unrealistic idea of what to expect in the ministry. Too many young preachers seem to have the idea that the pastor is a corporate CEO instead of a servant. They are looking for the church to serve them instead of looking to serve their church. Others want the attention and love they saw their pastor receive – without realizing how many years it took to win such love and respect from their people.
- They are comparing their ministry to someone else’s. Paul told us that this was not wise – but we do it anyway. Friend, do the best with what you have where you are. God has a work for you to do. If your church does not grow as fast as someone else’s, so what? Many preachers have good attendance for where they are and they don’t even realize it because they are looking over at someone else’s flock.
- They lack the perspective that only comes with experience. The longer you serve, the greater your perspective in the ministry. Just as young mothers tend to obsess about things that older mothers brush off, young preachers tend to worry and obsess about things that elder men of God know will work themselves out with time.
- They lack the moral support and encouragement of mentors or older preachers. Few things discourage a young preacher quite as much as being poorly treated by an older preacher. Getting brushed off or “big-time’d” by an older preacher stings (and may not be forgotten). If you are an older preacher, please be kind to young preachers. Drop them a note or encouraging word. You never know what it might mean to them!
- They lack the moral support of good, godly, encouraging friends. If you are a young preacher, it is likely that you are far from your old friends in the ministry. My friends from college are scattered over the world. My closest friends are too far away to meet regularly. Fortunately, cell phones and the internet allow us to keep in touch better than in former times. Unfortunately, some young preachers isolate themselves. They do not attend meetings; they do not return calls or emails; they are not friendly – and then they complain about being lonely! Be a friend to your friends; and if your friend is a young preacher, give him a call sometimes, or shoot over a text or email. It might make a big difference.
- They have unscriptural and/or unreasonable expectations of “success.” “Good success” is decided by Jesus Christ at the Judgment Seat, not by the brethren at the conference. Do your best, stay clean and close to God, and work towards a good standing before your Saviour.
- They have not learned how to handle conflict successfully. Some people problems fall under the “catch 22” category. No matter what you do, it will not work. Some people are crazy! They have more issues than The Reader’s Digest! Some are just rebellious, and others aren’t even saved. Judas Iscariot was not going to get right; nothing was going to change his actions because of who and what he was. However, some problems are just mishandled. My greatest regrets in ministry were those problems that I did not handle properly and which might have been resolved successfully. The resulting failure from improperly handled people problems leads to a lot of discouragement.
- They succumb to physical, mental, spiritual, or financial strain. In one four year span, our family went through the wringer. We went through a split/exodus of members in which we lost half our church; a mistake by our tax man caused us to personally owe several thousands of dollars to Uncle Sam; the loss of members and finances deepened our debt; I worked seven days a week with the church and 2 part-time jobs; my wife was diagnosed with M.S. and her health broke; and I had some members who seemed to delight in being a thorn in my side. All of this was a strain that took a toll on this young preacher and led to times of deep discouragement. No doubt others have gone or are going through similar situations or even worse.
- They are impatient with the learning curve of ministry. Leonard Ravenhill and E.M. Bounds both said that it takes twenty years to make a preacher. What is hard now will become easier later as you learn, grow and get into the rhythm and routine of the work. You have to let God work. Men of God are not bought off the shelf; they are forged over time. Don’t get discouraged. Let God use your circumstances to mold you into His man. You will be amazed at what He will do with your life one day!
I hope these thoughts have been a blessing. Surely, there are other reasons not listed here. Whatever the cause, God has the cure. Better days are ahead for those who continue moving forward. Remember that the man who walks with God always reaches His destination. Thank you for reading.