When we are discouraged, we lose heart. Our courage fails, our passion is cooled, we lose inner motivation and we feel pain.
Potentially discouraging events, words, trials and disappointments happen regularly in church life.
In times of change and transition the likelihood of these things occurring increases.
The Danger of Discouragement in Church Life
There are two major reasons why the enemy will foster discouragement within churches.
1. Disheartened people do the enemy’s work of criticism and accusation.
If discouragement becomes lodged in our hearts, it will find expression in our mouths. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34).
When discouraged, we are easily tempted to become critical and judgmental, especially if the source of discouragement is another person or church leader.
2. Discouragement robs people of motivation—and unmotivated people will not do God’s work.
A good illustration of this is found in the book of Ezra. When the exiles began to rebuild the temple of God, it says that, “the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.” (Ezra 4:4).
Doorways To Discouragement During Change In Church Life
Here are 6 entry points of discouragement in changing church life, along with tips on how to navigate through them:
During times of transition, changes are made in the vision, structure or culture of a local church.
When changes do not resemble our preconceived idea of how God is going to accomplish His purposes, we may become disappointed.
Disappointment can relate to unfulfilled vision. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” as Proverbs 13:12 says.
Prophetic people can be very vulnerable to this as we carry dreams and visions for our own lives and our church.
Disappointments may also relate to our own desire for ministry in the local church. During restructure we may be set aside from our role, or another person may be promoted in the ministry before us.
SURVIVAL TIP: At times like this, we must never lose sight of the fact that God Himself is watching over our lives and our calling, and that as surely as He has promised, He will bring it to pass as we keep our hearts right—in His time.
During times of change in church life, relationship hurts can arise very quickly. If we do not fully understand or appreciate changes being made, we may experience pain or offense.
Hurt can also be personal, for example, someone may hurt us through inconsiderate words or actions, even unintentionally.
The closer that person is to us, or the more authority a person carries, or the greater a position of trust, the deeper the wound can be.
Sometimes, the unsaid brings pain. Thankyous that are due but not given, or encouragement that is withheld, can also lead to discouragement.
SURVIVAL TIP: It is important to deal with hurts as they occur, or as soon as possible afterwards. Apply honesty, transparency, forgiveness and grace.
Change brings loss and loss brings grieving. This can be the loss of a ministry, a loss of familiar support structures or even the familiarity of the culture of church life.
Sometimes loss may be related directly to growth. For example, a pastor of over 200 people cannot give each congregational member the same amount of attention as when the congregation consisted of 60 people. A relational loss is felt.
If close friends leave the local church, we naturally go through a time of grieving.
SURVIVAL TIP: It is important to acknowledge grief and to bring it out into the open. Our grief needs be validated and expressed so that we can release it in a healthy manner and move on.
Change can be turbulent. Human error or misjudgement is more likely to take place during times of transition in the church.
Imperfect, human leaders cannot be expected to lead perfectly at all times. These are the times when we most need to extend grace to one another and to our leaders.
SURVIVAL TIP: When we have concerns about the way changes have been led in our church, it is a fresh opportunity to place our trust in God. The Bible sets a clear precedent that in spite of real or perceived mismanagement of human leaders, God is sovereign and His purpose for our lives, the community and the church will ultimately be accomplished.
5. Second-Hand Discouragement
Discouragement is catching. Someone else’s discouragement, vocalised, can be easily passed on to us.
The saying, ‘a burden shared is a burden halved’ is a lie when that burden is an offence in the church.
SURVIVAL TIP: Resist taking on another person’s discouragement. Another person’s offence is a burden you were never meant to carry. Once you take it on, it is difficult to remove.
Trials happen; mistakes are made; structures erected to fulfil visions and dreams sometimes fail; dry seasons occur; bad things happen to good people—and the local church is no exception.
During transition, such difficulties are inevitable.
Trials are allowed by God, and come “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).
SURVIVAL TIP: Remember that trials not only strengthen our faith, they are also part of God’s learning process for the church and for us as individuals.
There will always be reasons for hurt and discouragement in a growing, dynamic church. But I have learned that discouragement is an enemy to be shunned—with vigilance.
However, discouragement can also be helpful: it can be like an orange flashing light, indicating that there is something in our lives that needs attending to.
Our God is the source of encouragement and hope. The Kingdom of God, the scripture says, consists of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
The atmosphere of God’s Kingdom and that of discouragement cannot coexist. We have the power to choose which one we embrace.
Have you been discouraged in church life? Or would you like to know more about the antidote to discouragement and division in the church? This article, along with the above cartoon, is an excerpt from my book, ‘Prophetic People In A Changing Church.’
You can find out more about it on the Enliven Blog e-books page.
Have you experienced and overcome discouragement in church life? Share your own survival tips by leaving a comment on the comments box. If the comments box is not visible, click on this link and scroll down.
© Helen Calder Enliven Blog – Prophetic Teaching
On team with David McCracken Ministries: Prophetic Ministry That Empowers The Church
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