Periodically, I experience Sundays when I leave the pulpit feeling a deep sense of frustration. Today was one of those days.
As I sit here at my desk in the study reflecting on what just happened in today's worship experience, I really just want to scream. In fact, my flesh just wants to say, "This is it! What's the use? I quit!" I mean nothing seemed to flow as it should and ought. What we just went through had no sign of worship at all. Praise and worship was weak. The choir sang with no passion. The congregation was basically non-participative throughout most of the worship service, and vocally non-responsive to the preaching. It was obvious that this was one of those Sundays when people just came to church to go through the routine. As the pastor of the church, it really hurts me to admit it, but gee...the truth of the matter is that today's "worship experience" lacked the fervor and excitement that should resonate in any sanctaury where Christ is honored. I'm ashamed today to say that this is the church where I serve as pastor.
What intensifies my frustration is that I came to worship expecting to have a joyous time in the Lord and in the fellowship of the saints, but I couldn't find it. It was absent. It just wasn't there. I spent myself preparing to preach. I labored all week hearing God, doing all I needed to do to exegete the passage from which I was preaching today. After returning home on Saturday morning from visiting with family out-of-state over Christmas celebration, I went right into Saturday Church School and spent myself teaching the flock. Then I spent myself in my study at the church until after 10pm crafting my manuscript. I went home, took a shower, got a few hours of sleep, and then returned to my study at the church three hours before the start of our morning worship service to put the finishing touches on my sermon. And I did all that for what? Just to pour myself out again in ministry to a people who displayed an indifferent attitude---not just towards the sermon, but towards the whole worship experience. I just want to scream!!!
Please! Understand as you read this that I'm not looking for pity. With over 20 years of pastoral experience under my belt, I've been here many times before and bounced back, and am certain that I will come here many more times as I continue in ministry. I'm writing this because I know that somebody else is going through a frustration that is similar to mine. I readily recognize that my experience is not exceptional nor exclusive. Every Lord's Day thousands and thousands of senior pastors leave their pulpit feeling a deep sense of frustration over the apathy and indifference that those to whom they have been assigned to minister to display towards worshiping the Lord and towards hearing His Word! Every Lord's Day, thousands and thousands of senior pastors exit the pulpit, sit in the silence of their own private thoughts and think about throwing in the towel. They genuinely love ministry. They genuinely want to help people gain a clearer understanding of God's revelation. They give all of who they are and all of what they have to pour into the lives of others. But often it seems that all the sacrifice and effort required in pastoral ministry is wasted on people who lack authentic appreciation for it. Its enough to make you want to SCREAM! While we have to be rooted enough to recognize that's only the flesh, and we can't follow the counsel of the flesh; we have to be led by the Spirit, yet there is the reality of our human-ness, too. For we are only earthen vessels into which a spiritual treasure has been deposited. We have emotions...and sometimes....sometimes our emotions overwhelm us to the point where we get infected with the Elijah-under-the-juniper-tree Syndrome: "Lord, it's enough!"
When we are strugling with negative emotions, perhaps the last thing we need is to be in isolation. That often only serves to intensify what we feel, and leads us to self-pity and/or destructive behavior. This is a real danger zone for pastors. Most pastors are lonley poeple. Sure, we have people around us much of the time, but they are around us because they are needy. They look to us to give them what they need. We dare not look to them to give us what we need. We have to locate that somewhere else. And often, we who serve in pastoral ministry do not have another pastor with whom we can be transparent about our negative feelings and emotions relative to our ministry, and even our personal lives. We feel it, but we dare not voice it. That wouldn't be the spiritually mature thing to do. We get caught up in the notion that we must appear before others to be an ecclesiastical version of Superman.
So my questions are: 1) Do you experience such Sundays in your ministry? and 2) How do you handle your emotions and recover?
Perhaps if we can be open and honest here, we can provide some wise counsel to one another, and be strengthened to better handle our next episode of ministry madness when we feel like we just want to scream. WARNING: Sunday Morning Blues Coming To A Pulpit Near You!
"Spiritual leaders pay a price as they seek to serve God's people, but the people usually don't appreciate it. The same people repeat the same sins and refuse to trust God and obey Him." Warren W. Wiersbe