Discouragement in Ministry

Dec 01, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Anyone who has labored in ministry for any period of time knows that a consistent companion accompanies ministry. This companion raises its head for moments, days, months, and even years. It can threaten our joy, steal our delight, and hinder our zeal. What is this all-too-familiar companion? Discouragement. After conducting an informal survey with a few dozen pastors and lay-people over the past few months, the following are the top five reasons given for discouragement in ministry along with a few encouragements about how to battle through these struggles.

Hidden Nature of the Work:  Ministry is an odd endeavor. We minister the Word, pray, counsel, disciple, evangelize, teach, and preach, but seldom do these efforts produce immediate and concrete “results” that prove our labor was beneficial and effectual. We labor in the spiritual realm. Evidence of our labors is often impossible to see, which can be discouraging.

Encouragement: We must remind ourselves that we can’t rely on what we see or don’t see as evidence of an hour, day, or even month well spent in ministry: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Though the invisible nature of ministry can be discouraging at times, it also serves as one of the most encouraging aspects of gospel ministry. We never quite know what the Lord is doing or has done. A conversation we thought meaningless leads an individual to conversion; a poor sermon shakes a sinner from their stupor; weeks of agonizing and apparently ineffective prayer leads to an answer months later. God calls us to spiritual work, and we don’t always see what is happening. We must remember that our calling is simply to be faithful in what he has called us to and to use the means he has appointed. He does the rest.

Pride: Pride is an enemy of ministry and a harbinger of discouragement. We forget the call of our Lord, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:26). The problem most of us encounter in ministry is not that we are too theocentric, christocentric, or even anthropocentric, but that we are too “mecentric.” We fail to remember that ministry is not about me or even my local church, but about Him and His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Pride can lead us to be discouraged in ministry because we expected God to do more through us and even for us.

Encouragement: I once heard another pastor say something that resonated with my own experience in this realm. He said, “When I came to saving faith, I thought, ‘Lord, do great things through me for the sake of the Kingdom.’ After graduating from seminary, I thought, ‘Lord do great things through me in my denomination.’ After a few years in ministry, I thought, ‘Lord do great things through me in the local church.’ Now, after a few more years of ministry, I think, ‘Lord, just help me to finish the race!'” With the cross before our eyes, everything becomes clear. Humility is one of the great weapons we can employ against discouragement.

Inappropriate Expectations: Discouragement sets in because we expected something different or something more from our ministry labors. The slowness of growth in sanctification astounds us. Surely our church, children, or even own lives should have progressed further. We expected more fruit and longer lasting fruit. Demoralization sets in.

Encouragement: Sometimes the great work the Lord is about is not the work He is doing through us, but the work He is doing in us. Don’t miss it! Unmet expectations themselves can be a sign of His working in us. It puts us in the posture of limping, humility, and dependence. This doesn’t always feel like God’s grace to us, but anything that leads us to our knees and looking up to Him is grace, indeed!

Betrayal: One of the hardest experiences in ministry is betrayal by those you have loved, ministered to, and sacrificed for. It can depress your soul, distance your heart, and destroy your resolve. May it never be!

Encouragement: Our Lord Jesus knew betrayal greater than any we shall experience. Matthew states gravely, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). Matthew goes on to detail Peter’s famous denials. Paul writes about Demas, his friend and companion, betraying him for love of the world (2 Tim. 4:10). Betrayal will come in ministry. The world and sin exercise a strong pull, and some of the people we love the most will disappoint us the most. We should be prepared for it. However, we also want to continually be shocked by it. Otherwise, cynicism can set in and it has no place in our ministries. Be shocked, but not devastated. Let the wounds given to us by those within the church, lead us to fall more in love with the church rather than out of love with her.

Conflict: Maybe the greatest discouragement in ministry stems from the regular conflict which seems to attend it. We are sinners ministering to sinners; that is always ready ground for conflict. Some conflicts will be warranted and others will seem silly and petty, but they all take their toll.

Encouragement: Like betrayal, conflict will come. As Peter said, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). If you are embroiled in conflict, you are in good company and the Lord’s grace and peace is sufficient. Fight the temptation to become jaded. Embrace conflicts as an opportunity to show forth the love and grace of your Savior and the gospel we proclaim. Quickly dismiss the petty conflicts and refuse them the authority to keep you up at night. When false things are said about you, remind yourself that the humble man need not take any offense at the accusations or ridicule of others, because he knows he is far worse. And if false things have been said, you rest because the Lord is your judge and He knows the truth (1 Cor. 4:4).

Other Encouragements

Finally, I would like to offer a few other encouragements to fight discouragement in ministry. (1) Read biographies of the saints who have come before us. There is great encouragement in learning about their lives, ministries, and perseverance in the Lord. (2) Read letters and diaries from previous ages. As an example, I am currently reading the letters of George Whitefield and John Newton. Their heartfelt struggles and prayers have lifted my soul and directed my eyes heavenward in profound ways. (3) Find friends like Philemon, who “refresh” your soul (Phil. 1:7) and surround yourself with them. (4) Attend to the means of grace. Don’t be so busy about ministry that you miss being ministered to. Sit under the Word preached, come to the Lord’s Table, steal away moments to pray. (5) Continually look for glimmers of encouragement in your ministry. I often remind myself and others that we miss what the Lord is doing because too often we are looking for something grand and magnificent, when he has provided a steady stream of encouragement with little glimmers of His working effectually through and in us. It robs our soul of delight and joy to miss these glimmers of encouragement.

Ministry is hard work, but it is glorious work. Something every Christian is given the responsibility and privilege of enjoying. Let’s not allow discouragement to steal the delight from us.

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 30, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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Stuffed With Gratitude

Nov 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

John Piper explains how gratitude crowds out nastiness and the smallness of your heart:

Gratitude is such a great and wonderful think in Scripture that I feel constrained to end this chapter with a tribute. There are ways that gratitude helps brings about obedience to Christ. One way is that the spirit of gratitude is simply incompatible with some sinful attitudes. I think this is why Paul wrote, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4). Gratitude is a humble, happy response to the good will of someone who has done or tried to do you a favor. This humility and happiness cannot coexist in the heart with coarse, ugly, mean attitudes. Therefore the cultivation of a thankful heart leaves little room for such sins. (Future Grace, 48)

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An Ancient Prayer of Thanksgiving

Nov 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

From the Didache, Chapter 10 (late 1st or early 2nd century):

We give you thanks, Holy Father,
for your holy name, which you have caused to dwell in our hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality that you have made known to us through Jesus your servant;
to you be the glory forever.

You, almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake,
and gave food and drink to humans to enjoy, so that they might give you thanks;
but to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink,
and eternal life through your servant.

Above all we give thanks to you because you are mighty;
to you be the glory forever.

Remember your church, Lord,
to deliver is from all evil and to make it perfect in your love;
and from the four winds gather the church that has been sanctified into your kingdom,
which you have prepared for it;
for yours is the power and the glory forever.

May grace come, and may this world pass away.
Hosanna to the God of David.
If anyone is holy, let him come;
if anyone is not, let him repent.
Maranatha! Amen.

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But Where Are the Nine?

Nov 25, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising god with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” (Luke 17:15-17)

Everyone reading this blog has reason to give praise to God. The question is whether we will go on our thankless way like the rest of the former lepers, or turn around and fall at Jesus’ feet like the Samaritan. Are you part of the one or one of the nine?

I find it easy to ask God for things. I find it relatively easy to confess sin, perhaps because I have so much of it and feel guilty for it. It is harder for me to give thanks, not because I think I’m too proud to say thank you, but because I don’t have my eyes open to see all that God has done and is doing.

All of us, I imagine, got sick in the past year. And almost all of us got better. Have we given thanks? If we are getting sicker, maybe even approaching death, have we given thanks for the grace to make it this far and for the grace that will lead us home?

There is so much God has done for us: jobs, paid our bills, paying our bills at church, safe travel, safe surgeries, miraculous provision for little babies over the past year. We’ve had good test results, open doors, and unexpected blessings. Have we thanked God?

Did you sleep last night? Did your kids? Will you eat tomorrow? Have you seen people recently converted? Are their relationships in the process of being healed? Did you sell your house or get married or finish school? Have you enjoyed the encouragement and support of the church? Have you enjoyed laughter and sympathy with friends? We’ve known guilt. We’ve received grace. Will we live out gratitude?

We aren’t all blessed in the same ways. But we all have been blessed in innumerable ways. Some return to Jesus with praise. Others do not. Which prompts Jesus to say two things: “Your faith has made you well” and “Where are the nine?”

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Doctrine Matters: Eternal Life Depends Upon It

Nov 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Christianity is much more than getting your doctrine right.

But it is not less.

You can have right doctrine and not be a Christian. You can know all sorts of true things about Jesus and not be saved. The Devil is not unaware of who Jesus really is. The first beings in the Gospels to recognize the true identify of Christ are the demons. You can know true things and not be a Christian.

But you cannot be a Christian without knowing true things.

Some doctrines are absolutely essential. You can know some truths and still be lost, but there are some truths, without which, you will not be found. What we believe about Jesus is one of those truths.

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

If you are interested in abiding with Jesus and abiding with the Father, you will care about the truth abiding in you. We will not know God unless we know the truth. Which is another way of saying: You do not get to heaven without theology. The promise of 1 John is that if the truth abides in you, you abide in God and you will receive what is promised to you: namely, eternal life.

So if you care about eternity–if you care about your friends, your children, your parents who do not know Jesus–you will care to tell them and to plead with them about Christ. Because if they do not know the Son–no matter how “spiritual” they are and non matter how nice they are and no matter how many positive things they say about God, all the good things they say about God or how nice they are–they do not know the Father.

Let us not send people into the world with merely a vague notion that Jesus saves without teaching them particulars about the Jesus who does save. Jesus is a Savior for every kind of person, but not every kind of Jesus saves.

Do you know Jesus Christ? Do you know this man, this God-Man, this Son, this Savior, this King, this Christ? Will you get to know this Jesus and never budge from him—the one we find in the word, the one abiding in you by the Holy Spirit, the one you received when you became a Christian? It is not an exaggeration to say that heaven hangs in the balance. Your eternal happiness depends upon it.

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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URC Employment Opportunity: Director of Worship

Nov 20, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

University Reformed Church is looking for a Director of Worship. This is a new full time position at the church with responsibility for providing leadership for Sunday worship services, various music ministries, and other pastoral duties based on the candidate’s gifting.

The qualified candidate for Director of Worship will know and love God and His Word, and will be a true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. This person will be in agreement with URC’s Statement of Faith and membership covenant, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Director should meet the qualifications for elder as laid out in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, and the PCA Book of Church Order. This person should also have an understanding of and ability to embrace URC’s A Brief Theology and Philosophy of Worship. The position is open to ordained or non-ordained applicants.

The qualified candidate will fulfill the following requirements:

  • Extensive experience and high level of skill in music and worship leading
  • Good understanding of basic music theory and fundamentals
  • Piano proficiency to enable teaching at rehearsals

Also valued:

  • Bachelor’s degree in music (or equivalent experience)
  • Guitar proficiency
  • Music arranging and/or choral conducting experience
  • Formal theological training

Resumes and applications may be submitted electronically to Sean Duffy, chair of the Director of Worship Selection Committee, or by mail to the church office. Consideration of submitted resumes will begin December 14.

Job Posting

Job Description

URC’s Brief Theology and Philosophy of Worship

Employment Application

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Our Eyes Look to the Lord Our God

Nov 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

One of our elders, Peeter Lukas, is recently retired from working on the line at GM. He’s also a very thoughtful man, and a quite a good thinker and writer. Whenever he leads a devotional time, he writes out his remarks in advance and reads them to us. What he presents is invariably edifying and inspiring.

Below is his devotion for a recent meeting of our Director of Worship Search Committee (of which, in addition to being an elder, he is also a member). I think you’ll find this short meditation good for your soul, not to mention good for anyone else looking for someone to help lead the congregation in worship.


Psalm 123

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

The question that we are all asking is, “What sort of man are we looking for?” It seems “strange” to me that a man on planet Earth actually exists today who shall, Lord willing, be here some day. But who is he? I don’t think we’re looking for a Vegas lounge lizard—“There’s no business like show business…”—and I doubt we’re looking for the ninth century British monk who gave out cordial “Remember death” greetings to one and all.

So, who are we looking for?

The Psalmist, in verse one says, “I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”

Also, Psalm 34:1-5 says,

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.

What are we looking for? Ultimately, it’s a man of spiritual purity—a man who lifts his eyes and heart to God in knowledgeable, eager expectation of mercy in his own worship. He worships in such a way that he can say in verse 3, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us.” He knows of the mercies of God within his own soul first. God has gifted him with musical abilities that find their first outlet in his own worship of the God of mercies. He has a profound awareness of the mercy and grace of God in Christ. A director of worship is therefore urgent about one thing—the necessity of God alone at the center of our corporate worship.

Simple question: Is there any concern that URC’s worship would somehow become “professional” or any other derivative of this which would mean a loss of true spirituality if we hire a director of worship?

Simple answer: There should be few words more troubling to this man than the word “professional.” He labors after undistracting excellence in worship, but he labors for the right things. He’s concerned that the microphone perfectly picks up the angelic voice of 7 year old Sally Pureheart. He won’t ask during a group photo, “Did you get my best side?” He says, “I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” and he longs to see the same in others. This is what we further see in verse 2.

Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Our director of worship is a servant. He may wear a three piece suit, he may wear jeans and a sweater, but he’s a man with a passion that our eyes look to the Lord our God. He has a concern to serve and be with everyone, servants and maidservants included. Yes, he’s concerned to understand and minister to the multi-ethnic culture of University Reformed Church. I just said that he labors for the right things. He likes the gospel as it was defined by African-Americans over a hundred years ago—“being seized by the power of a new affection.” But he is just as concerned and sensitive to the typical middle class, college educated family, with a husband who works too much, a wife who is becoming increasingly depressed, a son who looks at his Xbox too much, and a daughter who thinks that the Kardashians are THE template.

Yes, he will labor to be pure, to have passion, and also to be proficient. He’s a man who will work hard to figure out how to use a pin whistle or violin or organ or choir for the edification of the body. It seems that we want a man who not only knows that there are 88 keys to a piano, but he knows how to find and use them. He‘s a man who knows that the word “chord“ has the letter “h“ in it, and he knows how to help others find the various chords on a guitar. To what degree of proficiency? I think the Psalmist answers that in verse 2: “so our eyes look to the Lord our God till he has mercy upon us.” Many of us don’t know chords from choruses, or arias from librettos, but what matters most is that we the someone we find can proficiently and passionately lead “us” and “ourselves” and “our families” in God honoring worship.

One final question and thought: What’s the context of Psalm 123? The commentators aren’t unanimous in this. James Boice leans towards it being written “in the early days after the Jew’s return from exile in Babylon”. Calvin leans to the time “when the Jews were captives in Babylon or when Antiochus Epiphanes exercised towards them (the Jews) the most relentless cruelty.”

The precise timetable may not be known but it still helps us to better understand the emotional context of verses 3 and 4.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Contempt, scorn, being mocked—there are few things that more quickly cut into us than contempt, scorn, mocking. And yet, the Psalmist in Psalm 123 isn’t being stringent; he doesn’t retaliate the mocker‘s words, he doesn’t build strong walls of “regulative principles and principles and principles,” accompanied with fiery eyes. Yes, he did say “more than enough” two times but he used the word “mercy” three times. And his terra firma reality was…

so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Our man ought to be proficient—we‘ll each have a slightly different definition as to what this looks like, but at the end of the day, can he serve well the entire body of URC? Our man needs to be passionate about the gospel and in serving others, and our man must be pure, the delight of his eyes is to be in the Lord and in His mercy.

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Does the Thomas Aquinas Quotation Exist?

Nov 18, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

One of the points I raised in yesterday’s post was whether this famous Aquinas quotation actually exists: “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.” This line gets used often, but I’ve never seen any citation given for it.

One of the commenters took up my challenge and identified the location of this quotation.

Well, sort of. Actually, it’s not at all the same quotation, but here’s what was relayed in the comments section:

Since you asked for it, the Aquinas quote you are [sic] could not find is in ST II.II q30, a2, ad2. “On like manner this applies to those also who are in great fear, for they are so intent on their own passion, that they pay no attention to the suffering of others.”

This is helpful, but it’s not what Aquinas has been quoted as saying. The citation noted above (from the Summa Theologica) is in a section about “Whether the reason for taking pity is a defect in the person who pities?” Defect here is not a pejorative term. It simply means, is the lack or loss of something the reason for pity? To which Aquinas answers yes: “A defect is always the reason for taking pity, either because one looks upon another’s defect as one’s own, through being united to him by love, or on account of the possibility of suffering in the same way.” Fear comes into play in Aquinas’ logic not because it drives compassion out of the heart, but because it can be a distraction. When someone is gripped by the passion of fear, it can be hard to notice anything or anyone outside of ourselves. That’s still a fine Christian insight, and some may argue that it applies to the immigration crisis. It’s not, however, the same as saying that fear and compassion are mutually exclusive.

And in any event, the original quotation–the popular one often cited in a variety of contexts–still doesn’t appear to be something Aquinas actually said.

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