The Monday Blues
As a pastor, I totally understand the Monday blues.
After investing hours upon hours in Scripture study, wrestling with the text, writing, and rehearsing your presentation, you engage the heart and minds of the congregation on Sunday morning with pastoral care and evangelistic zeal, providing a theologically faithful feast from Scripture peppered with helpful illustrations and wise, grace-driven application. The sermon found its crescendo with a cross-inspired invitation for the gathered to come and drink from Jesus, the fountain of grace.
Sometimes the intensity of the moment is so great that you feel faint unto passing out as you walk out of the stage as if you’ve just crossed the finish line of an ultra-marathon.
You are spent. Exhausted.
But it felt like a home-run.
Yet no one seems moved. At all.
While they may cheer in the ballpark, there is silence in the sanctuary.
After the preaching event, your heartbeat slows to a normal pace and you walk into the narthex to greet folks, expecting silence to give way to grateful congregants expressing their appreciation for your weekly “labor and delivery.”
That afternoon you check social media to see if anyone has posted about the impact of the message. Nothing.
You look at your inbox to see if there is a personal note of thanks. Nada.
What you do receive is an email complaining about the font in the bulletin and how you neglected to mention the storm victims during the pastoral prayer. Then, other complaints trickle in through the week.
- The message was too long. The message was too short.
- You tell too many stories. You don’t tell enough stories.
- You should read the Scripture before the sermon. You should wait to read the Scripture in the sermon.
- You shouldn’t walk around so much on stage. You should move around more on stage.
- You are too theological in your preaching. Your preaching isn’t theological enough.
- You haven’t paid enough personal attention to my family. You need to stay out of my family’s business.
- You need to be more involved in caring for the community. You need to be more involved in caring for the church.
- We need to make some changes in worship. You are making too many changes in worship.
- Our former pastor was a loving pastor, stellar preacher, gifted administrator, wise counselor, strong leader, unflappable evangelist, always available for any need and involved in every non-profit board in the community. Why can’t you be more like him?
You start to believe that the complaints are collectively true and feel like a total pastoral failure.
A Personal Story
Not long ago, a visiting pastor shared with me that his church was also a plant that used to meet in a high school. Today they are “running over 400” on Sundays.
We had (maybe) 100 in the service on the Sunday of his visit.
Of course, the thriving church plant with hundreds had been around for ten years. Umm… so have we.
I felt small and desperately wanted to explain that for a variety of reasons, we have lost over 100 members in the last couple of years. Lots of transfers moving away. A college ministry that was relocated. Some folks found themselves out of alignment with our theological identity. Others attend when it is convenient… if there is nothing else going on. After all, this is a recreational community where folks make the most of their weekends by getting outdoors to wander, not gathering indoors to worship.
If only everybody would show up at once to show visiting pastors that I’m really not such a failure.
If only I were a better preacher, leader, administrator, counselor, and did more personal visitation we’d be running over 400, too, rather than running people off. Right?
Spiritual apathy. Weekly complains. Demoralizing comparisons to more “successful” ministries. Interpersonal conflict. Frustrations with leadership. Self-doubt. Family pressures.
The perpetual discouragement factors that seem to plague pastoral ministry can be torturous.
I get it.
No wonder by Monday you are ready to quit.
Before you quit… do this instead.
1. Press Into the Heart of the Father
With raw honesty, press into the heart of the Father. Confess your discouragement and exchange your pastoral robes and clerical titles for the simple but glorious garment of righteousness that is yours in Jesus. Come to him not as a failed pastor but as a beloved son.
Confessing. Believing. Trusting.
Being his delight.
Yes, his delight. Listen to his song of joy that surrounds you with his great delight in you as his own.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. — Zephaniah 3:17
This is huge: the love of God for you is not proportional to how people respond to your ministry.
Remember Isaiah? When the prophet volunteered to be a missionary to the people of Judah, the LORD was delighted, but also provided his young ambassador a realistic expectation for his ministry.
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Sure, redemptive context is at play here. A unique place in the overall gospel story. Nevertheless, Isaiah was not to be hopeful of great success in his ministry. His preaching would be largely rejected.
And the LORD loved Isaiah deeply.
Just like you.
Please remember as you press into the heart of the Father that his love for and delight in you is in no way proportional to how people respond to your ministry.
2. Remember Why You Do What You Do.
I need to ask myself this all the time. Why am I a preacher? There really are only two avenues to take with the answer.
Either I preach in order to magnify the wonder of God’s glorious grace in Jesus or I preach in order to magnify my own glory. The face is, I will either desire to make his name great or my own name great.
I hesitate to answer that honestly. More often than not I fear that my true ambition is to advance myself.
Ouch. Yeah, that hurts. But in a good way, because, until I recognize my tendency to be about building my own reputation through my ministry, I will not be able to deal with the crickets, the silence, and potential rejection that comes with preaching the gospel.
If I preach to make a name for myself, then I will use people instead of loving them. I will demand their attendance on Sundays as a law rather than invite them to attend on Sundays as a means of grace for their spiritual nourishment and growth.
But if my own heart comes alive to the staggering glory of God’s grace in Jesus, I no longer have to use people. I am free to find joy and satisfaction in proclaiming the transforming beauty of the gospel whether or not anyone responds.
Oh, I really do want people to respond! But it is no longer out of a selfish need for personal validation. Their positive response is now a testimony, not to my greatness, but to the greatness of God.
What a blessing to see someone else come alive to the wonder of God’s grace in Jesus!
3. Hang Up Your Holy Spirit Cape.
Theologically, I know that the only way anyone is going to respond to the preaching of the gospel in a way that deeply impacts their life is if God acts within them to make that happen.
But for some reason, I functionally deny the necessity of Holy Spirit regeneration and illumination, forgetting that God must give new eyes and ears to see and hear. I forget that God must enable the born again believer to understand, embrace, and savor the preached word as a means of grace.
Instead, I put the pressure of being the Holy Spirit on myself.
But apart from the power of the Spirit, I can do nothing to effect any change in any life.
What am I to do? Hang up my Holy Spirit cape!
Freely confess that I am not a spiritual superhero. But he is.
My job is to phone in the need. His job is to come to the rescue.
4. Lower Your Expectations.
I really hope that you are the next Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, or Tim Keller. But if you are an ordinary human like me, you probably aren’t the next evangelical superstar.
Get over it and get on with it. Take the pressure off. Lower your expectations.
When I moved to north Georgia, I had dreams of a regional church that would draw people from counties far and wide. It wouldn’t be a mega-mega church with tens of thousands. Just a normal mega-church of a few thousand.
Although my desires were flex-fueled with a desire to God’s glory mixed with a hefty dose of selfish ambition, it is not wrong to dream. But ten years in, we have broken the 400 barrier, the 300 barrier, and the 200 barrier. In that order!
Now we often struggle to break the 100 barrier.
This reversal has caused me to ask some hard questions.
- Am I okay leading a small church?
- Is it okay to feed the church week in and week out and see slow and steady spiritual growth rather than a spurt of quick and dramatic numeric growth?
- Is it okay to focus on church health more than church growth?
Or am I just making excuses? Maybe.
But I also know that when a man plants a church, God tends to do an even greater work in the planters life than the life of those who are reached by the ministry. That work includes a necessary breaking of self and idolatry.
Yeah, I feel broken. At first, it was almost too painful to bear. But now I am strangely grateful.
To those three questions above. Yes.
5. Raise your expectations.
Wait, I thought you just said… Let me explain.
Lowering expectations is not about making excuses but cultivating pastoral sanity in the midst of reality. It is confessing your limitations.
Lowering expectations is what Paul describes in Romans 12:3.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.
But now we are talking about what is possible with God. In this case, I think we need to raise our expectations to the sky.
In Ephesians 3:20-21, Paul expresses his wonder of possibility like this:
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. Let each word settle in your heart for a minute.
God is able. Not you. Not me. God alone is able.
To do immeasurably more. Not just more than you or I but immeasurably — infinitely — more. There are no limits of possibility.
Than all we can ask or imagine. All refers to anything we could dream. Nothing is off the table. Anything we could possibly ask. We are talking beyond the imagination.
God is able to make it happen.
This is great news! But it is also an undeniable temptation for the flesh because if God is able to accomplish such amazing results, it will become easy to use God like a Genie. Those of us pastors with weeds of self-glory growing in the garden of our souls know, in our honest moments, whether or not our ambitions are for our glory or God’s glory.
Too often my ambitions have been about my reputation — as a way to make a name for myself. Ugh.
What tames the sinful aspirations of the flesh is to make much of the preceding context of Ephesians 3:20–21.
Here it is:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
What is it that God is able to do? He is able to make us grasp in increasing measure the cosmic dimensions of his love for us in Christ. This is love that “surpasses knowledge,” much like the peace that surpasses understanding in Philippians 4.
It cannot be grasped by human intellect or the striving of human reason. It must be given. It must be grace.
This shouldn’t surprise us as divine grace, the currency of heaven, can only come from above.
Grace Like Rain
It is as if Paul is on his knees praying for rain in a drought. We can’t make it rain. But we can pray for the skies to burst upon the dry ground with rivers of liquid nourishment. The same is true with the love of God. We need it to be poured out like a cloudburst. Given and received. Absorbed like living water for the soul.
Refreshing us. Empowering us. Motivating us.
Not to quit.
But to press again and again into the heart of the Father as we abide in Jesus as our perfect righteousness.