Discouraged in Ministry? Three Reminders to Keep You Balanced (Part 1)
Listen Time ~18 Minutes
Whatever your role in ministry — whether a senior pastor, a ministry leader, or a volunteer — it can be easy to get discouraged when you are not seeing much external fruitfulness. In this episode, Pastor Carter interviews special guest Mike Bryant, pastor and church planter, about not becoming discouraged and not taking too much responsibility for ministry.
Discouraged in Ministry Three Reminders to Keep You Balanced (Part 1)
Mike: What the Lord began to teach me through that is, is really some of the limits that I have for fruitful ministry to happen, it’s not just all on my shoulders.
Carter: Waddup everyone and welcome to the Bible Leadership Podcast connecting your Bible to your leadership and your leadership to your Bible. My name is Pastor Mark Carter and recently I was honored to sit down with a close pastor friend of mine, Mike Bryant. Mike is a pastor of Grace Community and for a long time, we’ve considered ourselves to be part of a co-pastoring team in our city. Mike is a guy that I deeply admire for his commitment to God’s Word, to his family, and to his church. He came into the studio, which is really just my office, and we discussed how easy it is to get discouraged in ministry; whether you’re a senior pastor, a ministry leader or a volunteer, every one of us needs to remember Mike’s advice. You have a part, God has a part, and they have a part, they meaning other people. Get ready to take some notes, let’s dive into part one of my conversation with Mike Bryant.
What’s up Mike?
Mike: Hey, great to be with you Carter.
Carter: Hey man, we’re so glad that you’re here, we’re really excited to talk to you guys today about not taking too much responsibility for ministry. I know that everybody can struggle with this from time to time, especially in today’s world where you can see so many other people on Instagram, on YouTube like blowing up the world so to speak and it’s like everything they touch turns to gold. But then there’s seasons that we go through in ministry where it feels like I just can’t get ahead of anything, I just can’t get it done, I can’t make it count the way other people do. I can remember a season, it was several years back, but we were meeting at Panera, we were talking about something and we both, I think you were reviewing Kent Hughes’s book, I was, I think it was a Shawn Lovejoy book, but both the books were on success in ministry. I think I was very discouraged of just like, man, why isn’t this going a little better than I predicted. If I remember right, you were a little discouraged. Tell us about that, like, what were some of the things that were compelling about that season for you?
Mike: Hmmmm, man. Well, I think just seeing the time that we had invested into certain areas of ministry, you know, whether it’s in a counseling appointment, or whether it’s a church planting experience that we went through or whatever, you know, you put a lot of effort in; you prepare, you plan, you execute well, and you just don’t see the fruitfulness and you’re like, come on, what’s wrong with me? Maybe? Or does God still love me, does God still want to work through me and you start to get discouraged and you wonder like, am I really fit for this, am I cut out for this, am I in the right line of work, so it takes a little bit of time to learn this lesson; for me at least.
Carter: Yea. Now Mike is not only a pastor but he’s a church planter. And what was really, I think, just helps him help us today, is that he has been a part of three different church plants. I’ve been a part of one real church plant. I went to other church plants but in terms of launching one, but I know Mike, all those church plants were different. What did you learn about taking too much responsibility for ministry, seeing how those three different churches went different?
Mike: Yeah, so I was part of a church plant in Crystal Lake back in the beginning of the 2000s. You know, what we saw is just a lot of excitement, a lot of initial external fruitfulness.
Carter: It looked like God was doing big things.
Mike: It looked like it, yeah, for sure and lots of people coming around, lots of people excited to serve and get involved in ministry. A lot of people, you know just moving in the same direction together and so you looked around you saw people coming, you saw ministries growing and you’re like, man, this seems like a lot of fruitfulness, and so you’re excited about that. Fast forward ten years and I’m in Gurnee and the Lord’s got us in a ministry and church planting again. And in that different context, all of a sudden like those same ministry principles that we were employing back in Crystal Lake, are not seeing the same external fruitfulness that we were, and in fact it was, it was arduous work, it was hard work. We started with a core group and it slowly built and yes, we were sustaining it, we paid the bills and kept the lights on, but we’re like, man, this isn’t there’s not the excitement with the people, there’s not the growth. A third church plant I was part of in Grayslake, then we didn’t see external fruitfulness as much as we did it at least in Crystal Lake. We’ve seen some growth, but for that it was more internal growth, where people’s hearts were changing, people were owning ministry but being in a transient area, people would leave a lot, you know, and so you couldn’t get a lot of external momentum so to speak and so I think through all those different experiences I would say in that Gurnee experience man, my heart grew very dark and discouraged. I felt like man, what am I missing Lord? And are you in this? And is this really what you’ve called me to and all those questions that go on in your mind, and you wrestle with it, and it made me start to wonder like, am I doing things wrong? What am I missing here? Why is this not going? I mean, I’m putting effort and energy, and you’re like, what’s the problem, you know?
Carter: How did that impact because, you know you said it a little bit this way to me before, your story is almost the inverse sometimes of the normal kind of fairy tale ministry story; you know, it starts small and then it just gets really big, and yours seemed like it started really big which may have created some difficult expectations. How did that impact when you’re in that middle stage, how did that impact your actual ministry? Like, did that make it harder, you know to get up on Sunday and preach and counsel people when you’re like, having questions, why isn’t this working?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah, because in the beginning when you see a lot of fruitfulness, you feel it builds this sense of power and the ability to influence hearts and influence lives, and so you feel almost like Superman in a sense. You’re like, if I come in, and I’ve got the Spirit of God in me and I’ve got His Word so what else do I need man? I just show up and I do my part man. And like lives are gonna change, people are going to fall down submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and they’re going to be like God is awesome let’s just continue to build and it’s just going to be, you know, you have this sunshine and rainbows, you know, image of what it’s going to be like because you’ve just seen so much, it’s like everything you touched turns to gold in the beginning. And then you get to the second experience or the second context and you’re like, none of that happens. And you’re like, what is going on here and I think I spent a lot of time just kind of questioning myself. It forced me inward in a sense going what in the world? What did I do, you know, and so, yeah, there’s so many times you didn’t want to get up and preach. There’s so many times you’re like, is this even worth it? So many times, you’re like man, maybe I should just pack it in and go get a regular job in the marketplace. And I think what the Lord began to teach me through that is, is really some of limits that I have for fruitful ministry to happen it’s not just all on my shoulder.
Carter: You’ve got a wealth of wisdom I feel like that God has taught you in those years, and you mentioned up at the top, I have a part, God has part, and they have a part. Let’s start with the first one. I have a part, tell us about your journey with I have a part. Was it hard for you, was that easy for you, what contributed to that?
Mike: Yeah, well I think in my life just to kind of give you a little bit about me I mean, so I’m a driver, I’m a doer, I’m a go getter and I’m a self-starter in that sense. So just like I go after stuff in general, by nature by how God’s wired me not everybody’s that way and I get that. But I also grew up in a church environment and somehow cut my teeth in ministry in an environment that was very focused on, if you do your part, man, everything else will take its place, and that has had to do with ministry that your spiritual life so it’s just like, man, do your part in your marriage, do your part, you know, go after be the servant leader and if your marriage is failing, it’s your part and it’s your fault, or if your ministry is failing, what are you doing or you’ve got to deliver the people, you’ve got to deliver the package, and it was all about the results and are you making it happen. And that sounds great. When everything else is working; when God’s like yep, I’m okay with this and I’m for this and I’m moving, and I’m blessing it. And when the people are going, yea this is awesome.
Carter: It’s good because it gives you the sense of Bible responsibility.
Mike: Yeah, we definitely have a part. If I’m a lame husband, if I’m not loving my wife, serving my wife, caring for my wife, my marriage is going to stink and it is all on me, you know, in that sense, but at the same time, so let’s say you do all that and then you’ve still got a problem in ministry or, you know, the ministry is not growing, or let’s say you’re doing that, like, like even in our experience in planting in northern Lake County. I mean what we experienced was so much transients in the area. And there’s so many big businesses around here, there’s the naval base and colleges and stuff like that, so people come in for a season of three to four years, and then they leave, and you’ve invested yourself into these good people, but then they leave, and so getting traction and getting that external fruitfulness where you’re like I spent myself I invest in myself, then these people go. To me, I’m like, I can’t control that.
Carter: So, for those who are discouraged about their fruitfulness, we talked about number one. I have a part and that’s really important. We don’t want to, especially for those that maybe are a little bit more prone to under do, you know what I’m saying? Like they just want to pray about everything, hey man, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, but at the end of the day, we have to act as well and so maybe some people need to buck up a little bit. You gotta keep going, you gotta keep pushing, you gotta keep doing. Number one, I have a part number two, God has a part. Are you telling me if I plant a church tomorrow in a different city it’s not necessarily just going to go the way that I see like the super mega pastors, do it?
Mike: Well, number one, most of us aren’t going to experience that you know, I mean that’s just a percentage I would assume. You know, that I’ve seen.
Carter: Do I need to shape my expectations about that? Do I need to come down to earth a little bit?
Mike: I think that’s wise and I think it would save you a lot of heartache in some sense too.
Carter: People would know the name we’re not going to talk about it right now but you were part of a church that really did a lot of great stuff, but had some dysfunctionality in it, and I know you’ve told me before you really appreciate it, a lot of the mentors that you had, because they really deposited that like, go get them, you can do it, we can conquer the world, like, get it go after it.
And yet, there was maybe some things that they left out in terms of shaping your theology of ministry. Like how did that go?
Mike: Yeah, I think a lot of what they focused on was the front end, let me say this, I had so many Godly mentors in my life and I praise God for that. Yeah, so many Godly influences and I feel like I’m here today, and the man I am today is so much of it. I pour out what guys poured into me and so, I’m grateful for that and not just guys but gals as well, Godly women, so I’m so grateful for that. At the same time, I think in that experience it was so focused on your part that I missed, hey you’ve got to focus on really connecting with what is God doing and what’s His heart in this area? And how do you do ministry, not just for God, but with God.
You know when the Spirit is moving in what is His heart and His desire in these people’s lives. What I am going after is not necessarily always what God is trying to get done. And so, if I can tap into God, what are you doing here, fruitful ministry is going to happen a whole lot more.
Carter: And I think that’s maybe part of the danger when we’ve been in a realm where everything seems to just click and everything seems to work, we can get tricked into thinking if I do my part, everything will just take care of itself. And I think it’s hard because I think part of success in ministry is you gotta have good systems. You know what I’m saying? Like things have to work and the problem is I think for a lot of folks especially maybe us doers, is we’re like, why isn’t the system doing the kingdom production, yet it should be and really our confidence is in the system now, or it’s in my personality; if I was good enough, if God approved of me enough, this would be going better, if my system was good enough, it would be going better, instead of maybe asking the question – maybe part of God’s sanctifying me is Him almost opposing, it’s not that He’s opposing His own kingdom, but He’s opposing my desire to be dependent on systems. He’s trying to get me to the place where, in this case like God cares about this particular neighborhood, God cares about these particular people. And if I’m always into the, what’s the next little kit I can plug in it to reach more people, my heart isn’t expanding to love people. It’s just like, man, good let’s do it let’s get numbers in and crank everything up. And I’m not being sanctified so I think one of the things that people need to remember, when we’re discouraged in terms of fruitfulness, is to remember that God is trying not just to get fruit out of you, but He’s trying to work on you. He’s trying to work on us. And there’s a Christ likeness that He’s trying to bring out, but it gives us having to shut down sometimes or at least you know reroute our human plans, really for, yes souls, but also self-glory. You know what I’m saying? So, we would look like the next guy or gal that everybody’s talking about or whatever. And so, I think we have to recognize, I love these Mike, I have a part but God has a part and if God doesn’t do His part, it doesn’t matter what I do, like, dude, God’s got to do His part.
Mike: Well it’s you doing a lot of effort and nothing’s happening, you know? I mean, isn’t that the message of Haggai? Haggai, chapter one, He’s like you’re working very hard, but you see it, you’re working a lot, little fruit, you know, He’s like because you’re not putting Me in the first place. And that’s a huge part of just like, you know, God doesn’t care about our work. He wants our hearts first. I think that’s the first part.
Carter:, Yea, and I think part about getting our hearts is sometimes is we want to be a peach tree and God’s like, but I made you to be an apple tree and we’re like no but God do you know about peaches? Peaches are really good. He’s like, I know about peaches, but you are supposed to be an apple tree. There’s something you saw, you wanted; you wanted that peach tree. God says, but until you become, allow me to make you an apple tree or bring fruit from your apples. You’re never gonna be a peach tree, like I’m sorry I’m not giving you peaches.
Mike: Yeah, I think that’s part of, you know, that’s, that’s my part and God’s part a little bit. For me, with my part, it’s learning what is my gifting, who has God made me to be. Stop trying to be somebody you’re not; be who you are. You know, in that sense of like, you know God’s gifted you to be a peach tree, you know, be the best peach tree you can. God’s gifted you to be an apple tree, be the best apple tree you can, know, in whatever context that takes; maybe some of you are counselors, maybe some of you are not. Stop trying to be who you are not, be who God has made you to be. That’s a learning process for us; focus on where God’s showing fruitfulness, you know, stop emphasizing what you’re not growing in. You know, not that sense of like, I’m not growing in my person but where you’re not seeing growth and the fruitfulness so to speak in ministry. Don’t focus on that, focus on where the places where you’re like man, when I put effort and energy, I see God’s joy; I sense it and feel it, and I’m seeing fruitful ministry, I’m seeing like lives change in hearts. I’m motivated for Jesus; I mean those are some of the things that you want to focus on. So that goes back to my part, you know, but it’s coming in line with God’s part; because God’s like I’ve created you in a certain way, but I’m doing something in this area, in this community. I mean, think of it Carter, even in in our relationship that we’ve ministered in the same area in the same community, some of the plans that we wanted to go after as senior pastors and as churches on the same team working for the same effort we’re like, yeah, God’s not really opening doors for that. And we, you know, we do a little share fest thing and you know it’s okay, God’s like here, here’s a little, you know, good effort. But is that really turning the heart of the community? Yea, no. And so, what did it do? It drove us back to prayer to God, are we in line with what You are doing?
Carter: It drove us to even more dependence in prayer. I think it’s been helpful to me even over the past couple years just to be praying more, Lord I feel myself coveting gifts or influence I don’t have, and it’s keeping my eye off the ball of what you’ve actually given me and what you’ve called me to do. And just praying more, God help me rejoice in who you made me instead of who you haven’t. Help me to rejoice in the job I get to do rather than the job I don’t get to do. I felt the Lord speak to me just a couple weeks ago, the grass is not greener on the other side. If somebody else somewhere is doing something amazing, and I’m not, instead of just, Lord help me love this I really believe like Jesus loved to do the will of the Father. Here I am Lord, I delight to do your will.
Well there’s more to learn from Mike next week in part two of our talk on discouragement in ministry. I’m so grateful to those of you who share the Bible Leadership Podcast with others on social media. This is an invitation open to everyone to join our leadership community, all they might need is for you to post it somewhere where they’ll see it. If you’re learning something from this, would you please rate it and write a review? Just so you know, we’re trying to put more podcasts out more frequently, so when I ask you to do me a favor, would you pray for the Bible Leadership Podcast? There’s a lot involved here, and if you’d like to volunteer your time, even if you only have an hour or two per week, you can contact my assistant, Melissa at Melissa@Bibleleadership.life. Don’t forget, when you’re out there leading, keep one hand on the steering wheel and one hand in the Bible.
Posted on August 22, 2019