the shape of leadership

Fighting off Discouragement

Don’t let negative thinking derail your ministry

Todd Bishop on January 10, 2018

I’m not sure how you process decisions or results, but I analyze. Too often, I overanalyze. I go over every detail, moment, conversation, word and more. I am constantly trying to tweak everything to make it better, but that comes at a price.

I often become discouraged when things don’t go as planned. As a lead pastor, I find that some of my most discouraging moments are on Sunday afternoons. I review attendance, giving, guests and decisions for Christ — and when they don’t reach my hopes, I feel down. I know we must trust God to build His Church.

But I am a results-driven person. I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I start comparing where we are to where I want to be. Even when things are going well, it can be a struggle to stay high on hope.

Matthew 5:45 declares, “he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (NLT). In other words, everyone faces the good and the bad. No one is immune to times of discouragement.

Whether you are a preacher, barista, teacher or businessperson, you can face the lows of your emotions. There is not one leader who does not battle discouragement from time to time.

In fact, I believe if you have never thought about quitting, you probably aren’t trying anything new. Any leader who says, “I never get discouraged,” is frankly not being honest or has settled for the status quo.

I have learned that if the enemy can keep you down, he will stop you from your destiny. That’s why you must fight off the feelings of defeat. God will always bring you through what life has brought you to.

Difficulty usually comes in seasons. That means discouragement does too. As a leader, you set the tone. That means you have to work through the discouraging seasons. It becomes a great testimony to those you lead.

Stay Faithful

Through every challenge, stay faithful. Speak faith when you feel weak. Refocus on Scripture when you become distracted. Remain humble when you experience success. In other words, be consistent in your faith.

My wife, Mary, and I began our church planting journey 10 years ago. It has been an incredible ride. We have faced the highs and lows of church planting.

I have a friend who planted a church at the same time we did — during the same month and same year. Today, they are running three times the size we are. I can easily compare my success with someone else’s and become discouraged. To be honest, there are days that I do. 

One week, when I was feeling especially discouraged, I received a call from a great friend, David Crosby. I will never forget what he said: “Todd, God puts the sharpest tools in the hardest soil.”

Oh man, that was like a shot of caffeine! Planting a church in the northeast United States is not for the faint of heart. Planting a church in the New York metro area is not for the timid. I choose to be faithful where I am.

Remember God’s Promises

This is often a tough thing to do, because we live in the now. But if God gave you a promise, hold on to that promise. No matter how it looks on the outside, stay focused on the vision for your life and leadership. If God has given you a dream and vision for your life, treasure those words. Remind yourself often what God whispered in your ear.

Often, I find myself rereading old journal entries that I penned or typed in the early days of our church. They energize me because they remind me of God’s promises. I believe that what’s not written down is quickly forgotten. That’s why I started journaling. It reminds me of what God has already said.

At the end of 2015, we were about to purchase our second building in Commack, New York. The former Jewish synagogue in the middle of Long Island was 34,000 square feet — much bigger than the 9,000-square-foot facility we had acquired in 2011. It would be the most expensive purchase in our history and cost 10 times the amount of our first property.

Since we had paid off the original building in three years, we leveraged some of the equity to purchase our next campus. I went back to my journal from when we purchased that 9,000-square-foot building (which, by the way, most people had told me not to buy), and I wrote, “God, thank you for this building, which we will leverage for future growth.”

What’s the point? Never forget what God has already said.

Focus on Solutions, Not Problems

When you are down, it is usually a focus issue. Somewhere in our leadership, we began to focus on the negative. In a recent staff meeting, I told our team, “Let’s not chat about what went wrong. Let’s just celebrate every win.”

It changed our conversation. You could see the excitement rise. If you are looking for the negative, you will find it. Some people see solutions to every problem. Others see problems to every solution. What is the difference? Focus.

As a pastor, I can honestly tell you that there are more than enough people who will point out everything that is wrong with your church. A few years ago, someone was upset that we did not have a cross in the building. I politely said, “If you would like to buy one for us, we will gladly put it up.”

God will always bring you through what life has brought you to.

That was the end of the discussion. The individual saw what he considered a problem but was unwilling to be the solution.

Leaders must see the solutions. We will have difficulties and challenges. I am not suggesting you ignore them, but don’t make them your focus. Your focus will always determine your forecast. The direction you are looking will be the direction you will go. See the problems, but don’t make them your focus.

Keep Your Joy High

Choose to smile. Eventually, your emotions will catch up. Make the decision that you are going to smile no matter what. Keep your joy high. Focus on all that God is doing right, how He is moving in your life and where He has brought you so far. You are probably doing better than you give yourself credit for.

Certain seasons are difficult for pastors — especially if you are not advancing as quickly as you thought you would. For the first eight years of our church, we posted our Christmas and Easter attendance numbers on social media.

Then I had a conversation with a wonderful pastor who told me that as I was celebrating our success, he was more discouraged because he did not have the same success. I had failed to realize that in my effort to encourage our church, I was discouraging another leader.

After that conversation, our church decided not to post holiday attendance tallies on social media. We now celebrate them in-house.

I have to be honest: I’ve often felt like that other pastor. I may feel like we had a great Easter, until I see someone else’s Easter.

You cannot get caught up in the comparison trap. It is a dangerous prison that will suck the life out of you and kill your joy. Scripture declares, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Keep your joy high. It will help you fight off discouragement.

Hear From Positive People

This is huge. I have had to change some of my relationships because others became voices of negativity. At one point, nearly every conversation I had left me feeling drained and exhausted. Mary and I made the choice to surround ourselves with “Yes, we can people.”

When you think of negativity, perhaps a few individuals come immediately to mind. Reduce your time with them, and make room for the right people.

Leaders, whoever has our ear will have our heart. Be careful what voices you allow to speak into your life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

If you have people constantly raining on your parade, tell them to start their own parade. Get the right people around you, and stop letting the negative voices distract you from God’s mission.

Misery doesn’t just love company — it crushes it! Miserable people will crush your dreams, your hopes, your desires and your spirit. Surround yourself with faith-filled, life-giving people and leaders.

Never Give Up

This is critical. Choose to keep going no matter what. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Stay strong. Keep pushing. You will get where God promised you would be.

My wife and I were facing one of the most discouraging seasons of our ministry. We had been given a building in Babylon, New York, but it was in serious disrepair. We also inherited a core group of about eight people. It would be our first attempt at multi-site ministry.

To make a long story short, we invested $150,000 into necessary repairs, but the property still needed $200,000 more than we had. The eight people eventually left, and we could not get the campus past 25 in attendance.

We decided to shut it down and sell the property. While we were in the process, the town revoked our property tax exemption because we were not officially meeting.

However, God came through in a big way. We ended up selling the property for more than it was worth. That’s how God provided the down payment and renovation finances for the 34,000-square-foot former Jewish synagogue. We often put it this way: “Out of the ashes of Babylon rose Commack.”

In the middle of one the most discouraging seasons of pastoring, God was doing something behind the scenes that we could not see. We chose to push through what we were experiencing. Mary and I stayed steadfast in our faith. We learned to pray more, trust more and believe more.

Creating discouragement is one of the enemy’s tactics. It is OK to have moments of feeling down, but you cannot stay down. Get up. Trust God. He has a plan and purpose for your life. Scripture promises, “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished” (Philippians 1:6).

Never forget that the enemy fights hardest those people God wants to take the highest. Your destiny was handcrafted by God. He will finish what He started. Keep going!


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