by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC
“We are troubled on every side…”
— 2 Corinthians 4:8 (KJV)
Yes, ministry is a battlefield. It’s the battlefield of eternal life over eternal separation from God. We get up every day to fight the good fight. Even when your ministry is flourishing and growing, there are constant battles to be fought. The dangers we face every day may not be what a soldier faces on a battlefield, but anyone in ministry would agree that there are times they feel like their place of ministry is certainly a battlefield. No matter your ministry position, denomination affiliation, leadership capabilities, level of education or years serving in your calling, there is a spiritual battlefield that is constantly at war. We might not be able to see the battle, but we can sure feel it and the battle going on in the spiritual realm is indeed fierce. So much so that there may be times where we feel like our armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) has taken some real damage. We read in Ephesians 6:11 and 13 that we are to put on the full armor of God so that we can stand firm. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” However, we find that our “standing firm” is on wobbly legs, weak from fighting. We’re worn down. We’ve given our all. And all that’s left to fall on our knees before God and weep in exhaustion. We might find ourselves in a place of questioning the call. Did we hear God right? If this ministry is truly what God has called me to do, then why is it so hard and why isn’t God blessing it? At a time, I found myself asking these very questions. The soft whisper of the Holy Spirit replied, “The more I am at work in you, the harder Satan fights. Stand firm. I am greater in you than he that is in the world.” It was the whisper I needed to keep pressing forward toward the goal. But it doesn’t make the battle any easier…if anything, it becomes harder as Satan fights back even more.
As if the spiritual battlefield wasn’t hard enough, there is also an earthly, human battlefield that Satan uses in his arsenal against us. Since those of us in ministry are imperfect people and those whom we minister to are imperfect people, we can find ourselves on a battlefield made up of human problems, such as differences of opinion, selfishness, anger, and well…sin of all kinds. It manifests as those moments where the church members argue over which side of the stage the piano belongs on or if there should or should not be a pulpit on the stage. It’s the arguments over the color of the carpet or if it’s okay for the preacher to preach from his iPad rather than a Bible in his hand. It’s those moments where you look around at the squabbles, tired of mediating, and wonder how church ever got to be about these things instead of saving souls from an eternity in hell.
Added to this there is the growing concern of mass shootings within the walls of churches and the questions begin to rise of how to protect the congregation. Should we be concerned about public ministry events at parks or stadiums? Should we be afraid of prayer walking the community where we serve? How do we reach the lost world and still protect the people in our churches?
Another battlefield arises as we try to make sure we protect ourselves, our families, and our ministry from even the appearance of evil. There are always the ones watching and waiting for us to mess up so they can point their fingers. There are the people who know us well and wag their finger saying, “How could God ever use you? He didn’t really call you. You’re just a ‘dreamer’.” Satan loves nothing more than to see a minister of God (whether that is a pastor, missionary, Christian Counselor, or someone in a ministry organization) fail or give up or walk away because of the pointing, accusing finger. It’s one of his best flaming arrows! It doesn’t even matter if the pointing finger of accusation is verified or all lies. It doesn’t have to hit the target. Once the finger is pointed, damage has been done. Credibility is loss. Effectiveness diminished.
Then there is the silent battlefield of dangers that lurk about in the dark waiting to sneak up, kill and destroy those in ministry. These dangers include health issues, burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress. As a result, pastors, missionaries, and others in ministry professions walk away from the calling. Instead of standing firm, steadfast, immovable and always excelling, they call it quits and leave the task of ministering for someone else to do. Sometimes they quit, but find a different way to minister. If they decide to stay in their ministry field, they no longer have the passion and zeal to serve. Ministry becomes a “have to” rather than an opportunity to serve our God. They risk facing depression, lack of motivation, and anxiety. Their relationships decline and many physical symptoms begin to emerge.
With so fierce a battlefield, is it any wonder that people who give their all to the ministry God has called them often face the engulfing flames of burnout?
Return on Monday, September 24th for Part 3 in the Self-Care series
Part 3: The Engulfing Flames of Burnout