Dealing With Vocational Frustrations in Ministry

A friend recently asked me, “What is the most frustrating part of working at a church?” That is such a loaded question. No job, ministry, or otherwise, is perfect; and vocational frustration can happen partially due to poor expectations on our part. For example, at my very first full-time youth ministry job, I thought, How hard can it be to work at a church? We all love Jesus; there shouldn’t be many problems. My answer was something I have said for years. Churches don’t mean to lie to you, but they do. These unintentional lies happen regularly in churches, around the country, and across denominational lines. They happen because churches, like other organizations, tend to have two levels of values. Their official, or articulated values versus their day-to-day values, or actual values. They unintentionally lie because they don’t always own and operate with common or deep values. Articulated values would be, “We want you to reach more students.” Actual values are, “We don’t want those students.” Articulated values look nice, sound good, and can provide warm fuzzies. Actual values are how they are executed when under pressure. The discrepancies most often occur because church leadership can lack an accurate organizational self-awareness.

Expectations that hurt us in ministry are often unspoken, unclear, or unrealistic.

Despite being unspoken, it’s still our fault for not knowing them. It’s easy to point the finger at the shortcomings of the organizations that we work for. I’m not excusing their faults but let's focus on our attitudes and control how we choose to respond to the frustrations.

  1. Every ministry has faults and shortcomings. We need to accept and love people where they are and allow God to help them become better. Regardless of how long the process of change takes place, we are still commanded to live at peace with everyone as far as it depends upon us.
  2. Prayer changes things. And what I’ve discovered, most of the time, it reshapes me and how I react interact with people. Pray for the situation, pray for your response and the others involved.
  3. Remember your calling and who your ultimate boss is. Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
  4. Hard days happen to everyone. Hopefully, things will get better, but if they don’t, it’s okay to leave a ministry if it’s unhealthy. But if you do transition out, do it with confirmation from trusted friends and not out of anger or hurt. God is always good, fair, and righteous even when his people (ourselves included) are not.
  5. Relentlessly remind yourself that we base our identity on how God views us and not what we do for God, in your ministry or the Kingdom. When we rest in the reality that God is always crazy about us and holds us as a beloved child, we can consistently experience the peace that passes understanding despite what comes our way.