It is not uncommon for me to sit across the table from a friend, colleague, or student and hear stories of burnout, disillusionment, and just plain weariness in ministry. The reasons for these feelings are many, but often I find that in each of these stories there is a point or season in ministry and life where each individual wrestles with motivation and passion. There is a palpable sense of struggle to rekindle a compelling vision for ministry. In these seasons of struggle, it seems as though life and ministry have siphoned the best years of life away instead of providing the meaning and purpose one had hoped. Now, there seems to be little to show for it other than the nagging question of “why?”
Ministry of any stripe—missionary, church planter, or pastor—requires steadfastness and a sense of calling that outweighs momentary struggles and challenges. One experiences the highest of highs in ministry, as well as the lowest of lows. If you don’t believe me, just ask Elijah who faced down the prophets of Baal and then ran in fear for his life (1 Kings 18-19). These rhythms are normal (see Elijah, again), but at times we have to wrestle with feelings of discontentment, fear, or purposelessness. While not uncommon, I believe this points to a sobering truth in ministry—passion isn’t enough.
Here are three reasons why:
1. Passion wanes.
We’ve all been there. The first day, the new journey, the first steps in your ministry. It is exhilarating. You are finally doing what you have trained to do and trusted the Lord to bring to pass. You have arrived!
Ministry, like almost everything in life, is not about how you start but how you finish. Once the exhilaration dims, passion often wanes. A lack of passion doesn’t automatically mean you misheard the Lord or that you are doing the wrong thing. It may just mean that you are experiencing the necessary highs and lows that will produce a more fruitful ministry in the years to come. Arriving is good, but finishing faithfully is better.
2. Passion is difficult to assess.
People express passion in all sorts of ways. Some influence others with their emotional passion. Others have a dogged commitment to a ministry or mission that is awe-inspiring. Others are quiet, yet their selflessness in serving others and sharing the gospel may not be appreciated until years later. Passion is a terrible ‘one-size-fits-all’ metric in ministry. Each one of us has a role to play in serving the church and fulfilling the Great Commission.
3. Passion is temperamental.
Give me a day without a good cup of coffee and I will tell you it’s a bad day. In the same way, our passion can fluctuate according to a host of influences and experiences. There are no ‘normal’ days in ministry. The messiness of ministry elates you one day and it causes you to question your entire reason for being in ministry the next . The experiences of ministry are poor substitutes for a growing relationship with the Lord and a vital connection to the community of faith. On the good and bad days of ministry, we all need to remember that our first love is not the things of ministry but the One who called us into ministry. Some days we need more help than others.
If you find yourself in a season of struggle and questioning the ‘why’ of your ministry, take heart. You are not abnormal and you are most certainly not alone. Stay faithful, persevere, and remember passion is not the sum total of a fruitful ministry.