(We generally don’t publish anonymous articles, but this one seemed a reasonable exception)
There are two things I dread every Sunday.
First, I dread reading the tweets and Facebook posts of my pastor friends who are “stoked” and “pumped” as they anticipate gathering with the greatest people God ever saved to worship in the greatest churches God every established to hug and celebrate and rejoice and experience a little heaven on earth.
Second, I dread going to my church. That’s bad. I’m the pastor. As the week wears on and Sunday rolls around again, I get this nagging sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. It’s Friday and Sunday’s coming! Anxiety. Apprehension. Indigestion. Discouragement? Indubitably. Burnout? Possibly. Depression? I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t think so, not in the clinical sense at least, but I’m not sure. I just know that the thought of going to my church and performing my duties on Sunday gives me less than the surge of joy, hope, anticipation and excitement that those others feel.
Every week I preach the eternal word of God. I try to be faithful to my job, though recently it’s been a struggle and I’m guessing my performance has slipped a bit. No one except my wife knows how I feel and I don’t think my people have any idea that these emotions attach when I think about going to church. I’m not in trouble with my congregation. We are not a church in crisis.
Things are not horrible at the church. They aren’t great, but they aren’t awful either. I’m unhappy with some decisions the church has made and I am afraid we’ve missed some opportunities that are going to come back to haunt us in the future. There are some dynamics in the church that deeply trouble me and yet there are so many good things going on here. So why is my spirit so troubled?
I’m not in conflict with the people – not the vast majority anyway. There are a couple of sore spots, of course. I’ve had that at every church I’ve ever served, haven’t you? I’ve had unanimous votes when I was called but I’d have never gotten one three years later. I actually love and appreciate most of these people, get along with them, and work well with them. There are some great people here. But still, as Sunday approaches, dread fills my heart. I preach and pastor out of obligation and duty, not an overflow of joy.
I’m not sure where this stream of consciousness exercise is headed. Someone is going to tell me I’m depressed or burned out and I need to see a doctor. I’m functional, and not prone to self-harm. I do not think I’m in any danger of becoming one of those tragic stories. If things change for the worse I may see a doctor, but last I heard doctors can’t provide joy, can they? The thrill is gone. There’s just no joy in my ministry right now. I’m not sure if it’s about me, or this church, or something else. I don’t know. But my heart is running on fumes.
I wonder if it’s time to move on. How do I know that? God called me here and I’m willing to stay as long as he leaves me here. Was Jeremiah ever happy in his pit? Were Paul’s prison years fun and exciting? I was called to serve God not to seek happiness. I’ve known some really good times in ministry and I’ve been through a few times like this. Am I supposed to be “happy, happy, happy,” all the time? How do I know when it’s time to leave, when this ministry is finished and it’s time to seek another place of service? If the problem is within me, won’t I take the problem with me to a new ministry? Will things really improve just from a change of office chairs?
Is this agitation in my spirit God’s way of saying it’s time to move on? Is it the Spirit trying to call me to repent of something? I don’t think I’m in deep sin, unless it is a sin to not feel constant joy. Is it okay for a pastor to go to church week after week and be a faithful minister, even if he is not overwhelmed with joy and happiness at the prospect? Is this one of those dark nights that I have to go through waiting for joy to come in the morning? And can anyone tell me when the dawn is supposed to break? This has been one LONG night!
I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way. Depression and discouragement are real issues among a lot of preachers – we just can’t talk about it because we are too holy! Why do you think I’m writing this anonymously? If you happen to know me you would lose respect for me if I admitted that I had this spiritual struggle. I’m a pastor, a holy man, a man of God! I’m not allowed to have feet of clay. I must be faster than the speeding bullets of the enemy and be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (by faith, of course). I’m not allowed to have problems like mere mortals, right? Move along, folks. No weakness to see here!
I sometimes wonder if you guys who are always cheery, always pumped and stoked, always regaling the world with your triumphs and successes on Facebook, Twitter and blogs – do you really have it all together, or is that a cover-up? Are you hiding your pain and compensating for your insecurities with spiritual hype? Or are you really that chipper? Is everything that wonderful, or do you just need us to believe it’s that great? Are you hurting as bad as I am but covering it with more makeup than an aging socialite?
I’m tired of feeling this way, but I can’t seem to find the enthusiasm on-button. I need spiritual renewal – more time in God’s word and in prayer – a refreshing of my soul. I need some friends I can trust whom I can share this burden with, but I’ve been burned enough times to be very wary of touching that stove again!
But I feel like I’m stuck in the mud and spinning my tires – trying hard but going nowhere. Not sure how to get traction and get moving again. Not sure how to break out.
So, for right now I’m pushing through the pain. Step by step. Day by day. I’m going get up tomorrow and do my ministry with the strength God gives me, whether there’s any joy or not. Then I’m gonna do the same thing the next day and the next. I will keep doing this by faith and dependence, hoping that one of these days the dawn will come and the sun of joy will rise again.
In the meantime, it’s Monday and Sunday’s coming.