In addition to the devoted heart of today’s clergy, many of us also know what it feels like to have a discouraged heart.
Despite our fervent prayers and best efforts, mainline Protestantism is losing members at an alarming rate. I rarely go into a church anymore without thinking, “There won’t be hardly anyone here in 20 years!”
Oh, I know—and I believe—God can do things we cannot presently imagine. And I am praying that He will. But I’m talking just about “the facts” which personify themselves in one church after another where the average age of the congregation is above the average age of the community. The fact is, in twenty years many of the people I look at will be in heaven, and a lot of the others will be in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
We seem to find ways to avoid these realities, but underneath our “institutional denial” lies a mounting malaise among many of the pastors I know and cross paths with. And that mixes with my own 41 years of ordained ministry, when quite frankly, I expected more success when I started out, than I’ve actually seen.
Added to this, is a growing “churchless Christianity” and also a “religionless spirituality”—both of which make the local congregation unnecessary, and in some cases, even allegedly dangerous. As Joe Stowell said years ago, “The conditions in which we do ministry are not favorable.”
Today’s blog is not intended to be a “downer.” It’s intended to be another attempt to say on this site that “spirituality is reality.” We cannot ignore the powerfully conter-productive forces that are working against our best efforts. As clergy, we must not try to explain them away or believe they have no effect upon us.
So, what is the way through all this? I have only one thing to suggest, and it is the same approach I find that St. Paul took under similar circumstances. He wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and 4:8-10. I am not going to write in the verses here. I want you to open your own Bible and ponder them. I think you’ll discover, like I did, that we are in good company.
Moreover, I find the Psalms to be places where I remember that discouragement “goes with the territory.”
On my best days, I realize that trying to be a God-advocate in a fallen world is not going to be easy all the time. In fact, it may be difficult most of the time. This at least helps me to put the discouragement in its proper context.
Also, I know people in other care-giving professions who are similarly discouraged as they see their ideals and dreams battered on the rocks of reality. Again, we are in good company.
This post has gotten rather long, but I think it’s because the subject is particularly deep. I offer words like the following as a way to move ahead even when a discouraged heart is beating inside you: “Are you weak, and heavy laden? Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Jesus, still our refuge. Take it to the Lord in prayer.”