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Why Am I Disappointed in Ministry?

Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore

I’ve always believed that hard work pays off. Sacrifices must be made—be it time, entertainment, or sleep—if results are to be expected. It is therefore no surprise to hear how many would stay up late to complete their assignments, edit their masterpieces, or study for an exam.

I apply this attitude to both my studies and my involvement in Christian ministry. Besides serving in church, over the past four years, I’ve been volunteering at a para-church organization for youth where I share the good news of Christ to unbelieving youths on the streets and disciple small groups of believers.

Occasionally, the time I invest into preparing Bible study materials and facilitating comes at the expense of sleep and social life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about these sacrifices—after all, this work ethic has long been ingrained in me.

But, despite my efforts, my group members seemed to display stagnancy in their spiritual growth. On better occasions, there would be four to five of us. But academia and school commitments proved to be real competing elements, and whenever competitions and examinations drew near, there would be a drop in attendance. Week after week, Bible study sessions and prayer meetings would see a regular attendance of two attendees—myself and one other student.

It was extremely defeating.

I remembered seeking God intently for His direction and for affirmation, wondering if my work was acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. Was there something I had to do more of? Or did I have to let go of something?

But then I thought: It can’t be that ministering to others through Bible studies is not effective enough. After all, bible study is one of the most fundamental habits of Christian growth. So why did I feel that I was not doing enough?

Over time and after seeking godly counsel, I arrived at this conclusion: Either what I was doing was clearly against biblical principles, or my heart was simply not right with God.

I believed it was the second case. Clearly, my heart was not aligned with God’s. What I saw as the end goal in ministry was not what He saw. I had been unwittingly distracted by the things of God, instead of focusing on God himself. In other words, my focus on the attendance, the quality of discussion, and the materials had consumed my focus on the One I was doing all this for.

Psalm 37:4 (NASB) says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we will naturally desire what He wants and experience joy. Yet, despite knowing this, I had allowed myself to be caught in a tiring, fruitless cycle of focusing on the peripheral things. I had held on too tightly to these aspects of ministry that while necessary, were not critical. My disappointments in ministry came because I sought joy in getting results.

Disappointment is a natural response to our unmet hopes and expectations. But it’s how we respond to our disappointments that reveal our intentions. Too often, I become despondent when things don’t go according to how I envision and I lose steam to continue—instead of  surrendering the work to the Lord.

Through Paul’s letter to Timothy in 2 Tim 3-4, I’m reminded that what God requires of us is to persevere and to hope in Him—regardless of the outcome. Despite Paul’s tribulations and persecutions, he fixed his eyes on Jesus and remained faithful to the task of advancing God’s kingdom work.

If there is one thing I need to tell myself when faced with disappointments again, it is to learn to let go and seek God. My prayer is to continually see the big picture that God has in His ultimate plan of redemption and salvation so that in any role I partake, whether big or small, I place my joy and assurance in the Lord that He will bring it to completion.

But while I pray that the Lord gives me the joy of knowing Him well, I must also not neglect taking concrete steps in improving how I teach and share from the Bible. For instance, I should communicate regularly with my students to get feedback on their challenges and ways to improve the sessions.

Psalm 127: 1 (NASB) sums it up well: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” A ministry can only grow if it is God-led and God-centered.

May the joy of knowing God spur us to excel in His work, and not the other way around.

 

4 Struggles We Face in Ministry

Serving people can be hard work, whether in or out of the church.

In church, I am thankful for the support I get from family and friends as I serve, but there are still many moments when I feel discouraged and insufficient to continue what I set out to do—and it’s usually because of people. In those moments, I try to comfort myself by saying: “If it is not hard, then it is not ministry.”

But I also believe that God wants to teach me through my struggles.

1. People are uninterested

Are you leading a cell group, trying to organize an event or planning an outreach, and find your group members or co-leaders showing disinterest? Sometimes, I feel most unappreciated and resentful towards people for not putting in as much effort and not supporting me as much as I think they should.

But God has reminded me to take a step back, in order not to completely miss the point of ministry—that it is about people, not about my programs and my plans. Ministry is about helping people grow in their faith and love of Christ, and about caring for their needs.

So I am learning to care for people instead of programs, by being interested in their lives and the problems they are facing. I am also learning to be open to feedback, and to organize events or cell meetings that can meet their needs.

2. People are discouraging

Sometimes, we get disheartening response to our service, or feedback from leaders that seems harsh or unfair. At other times, our peers may just seem critical or plain unhelpful. When that happens, I can feel the seed of discontentment growing into bitterness and making me harbor grudges against them.

But God has taught me to show grace—to my leaders, peers, and juniors. And I have found that those whom I had been disappointed in, turned out to have a story behind them that explained their actions. Once, I felt extremely ashamed of myself when a co-worker—who I thought was just being sluggish—told us that his non-believing parents had been deterring him from being active in church. I realized that I had been unfair and too quick to judge his attitude, and that my own attitude towards him might have even discouraged him further.

Unless I have tried to step into the shoes of another, I will not know how much they are struggling, fighting, and striving to love God. So I am learning to show grace to others, just as Christ has shown grace to me.

3. People are different

Are you facing differences in doctrinal beliefs, convictions, or ministry focus among fellow believers? Do you find these differences causing rifts and misunderstandings that slow down progress in your ministry and affect your “efficiency”?

Perhaps this is the wrong way to think. I’ve learned to see that differences in opinion can in fact broaden and enrich my perspective—if only I lay aside my pride. I tend to get impatient with people who seem to be overly excited about things like spiritual gifts, but a friend hit the nail on the head one day when she told me, “You’re never going to understand if you’re always going to judge them first!”

Her words hit me hard: they reminded me about the judgmental attitude I had been holding against people whose ideas did not seem to align with mine. I am thankful for friends and co-workers who constantly step in to help me see things in a different light.

4. People judge us by our service

Am I serving too much or too little? Am I overbearing or being a pushover? All these thoughts run through my mind every time I try to do something. I know that keeping my focus on Christ is more important, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about these things and looking at my shortcomings.

I used to judge the effectiveness of my ministry by the number of people who turned up for fellowship, events, or anything that I planned, and felt discouraged whenever the response was low or people were tardy. But I have learned to remind myself that other people’s judgment of my event is not a judgment of my character or person, and that a poor response is not the result of my lack of faith or effectiveness. After God brought about this change in me, I was able to rejoice in serving even when attendance was dismal. Serving became a lot easier and happier when I stopped worrying about what people thought of me.

 

It is normal to feel disheartened by ministry; no one is immune to it. But these places of discouragement may be where God is pushing us to rely on Him more. God does not need us to help Him do His work, but it pleases Him when we rely on Him when we minister to others. God is far more interested in who we are, than what we do for Him.