Most of the time on blogs like mine or other leadership and ministry blogs you read about how tough ministry is, how difficult people can be and how hard it is to be a leader. All those things are true.
At the same time, if you are a leader, especially if you are a pastor, you have a lot to be thankful for. At the same time, as a follower of Jesus, growing in your thankfulness is a sign of your faith but also of your maturity. I know for me, when I am pessimistic, only seeing what isn’t working or how things aren’t what I want them to be, it makes me a poor leader, a poor husband and father, and honestly, a poor human.
So I sat down in the middle of a pity party, when things didn’t go how I wanted them to go at church and someone was mad at me, and wrote out things I should be thankful for. For you this list might be different, but here’s what came to mind for me:
1. My church still exists. This might seem like a weird one, but on a weekly basis I hear about another church that closed their doors. When we moved to Tucson and started Revolution church, there was a window of three years where over 20 churches were planted in Tucson (of which we were one), and only three of those are still going (of which we are one). Why? That’s God’s grace towards us.
2. I get to use my gifts. Most pastors overlook this gift. If you ask most people what their gifts, talents and passions are, they don’t know. They don’t know how God has wired them, the talents they have, how their family of origin and story have gone into making them who they are and the passions they have, but many pastors do. They get out of bed with a burning passion to see something happen for God. That isn’t a small thing.
3. My marriage. If you’re a pastor, your wife deserves more credit than you do. She endures more than you do. I know, I know. Your life is so hard as a leader, the stress, the pain, the emotional side of ministry. I get it. Yet it is nowhere near as difficult as the role your wife plays. While you can bury yourself in work and ministry as a way of letting off steam, she doesn’t have that opportunity. She endures more than you do, and you should tell her thanks. She takes the brunt of your emotional roller coaster, she walks on egg shells around you sometimes, she hears people talk behind your back, she sees the glares you don’t see, she hears what things are said about your kids that you don’t hear, she worries about you in ways you don’t understand. And yet she has stuck with you. She is your biggest cheerleader, your biggest prayer warrior. Speak highly of her always, on stage and off. I talk about Katie in such a way that I want to communicate, if you speak badly about my wife, stab her in the back, you get papa bear, and you don’t want that. Too many pastors are weak when it comes to their wives and how they defend them in their church. Sadly, you have to do this because people can be mean.
4. My kids. The same goes for your kids. It is hard being a pastor’s kid. Way harder than being a pastor, so don’t put it in the same category. Don’t put more pressure on them than is already on them. When someone says in disbelief, “I can’t believe your kid jumped off the stage and over the communion table” (true story in the Reich family), shake your head, laugh and say, “What did you expect a five year old boy to do? Did he clear the table?” He did and didn’t get hurt.
I am my biggest protector of my kids. I want them to enjoy being kids. I want them to enjoy being a pastor’s kid as much as they can. When people try to put something on them that I think is unfair, I fight to take that expectation away.
5. My team. I’m thankful for my team. Most leaders are visionary, hard driving, goal setting people, which makes us difficult to be around and be friends with. The fact that people endure you as a leader is something to be thankful for. They help you, mold you and make things better. Sadly, most leaders don’t like their teams, which is the fault of the leader. You get what you allow or create.
6. I’m not 300 pounds anymore. I’m thankful for my health. When we started our church I weighed almost 300 pounds, and in the first 18 months I lost 130 pounds and have kept it off. I know it sounds silly to be thankful for your health and very cliche, but if you’re healthy, that’s a gift from God. Not everyone is.
7. God loves me. Lastly, if you are a follower of Jesus, God loves you, and because of His love for you He sent his Son Jesus to die in your place so that you could have a relationship with Him. Never get far from this truth and reality as a pastor.
But what do you do when it is hard to be thankful and ministry is hard? That happens.
One thing that was helpful was something I came across in Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, where the author said to give yourself 24 hours to mope, throw a pity party and then get back on the horse and lead.