We’ve all been there.
We planned something for months and the day finally comes–and only 3 people show up.
We had a significant conversation with someone in our collegiate or young adult ministry about a life decision–and a few days later, they’re making choices as if that conversation never happened.
Disappointment is a regular factor of ministry, but it’s a topic we rarely discuss. We often treat it like a forbidden topic to talk about as leaders.
So how do we deal with disappointment in ministry?
I’ll be honest: I’ve been tagged as the eternal optimist in most situations, but I’ve had some significant moments of disappointment throughout ministry. Disappointment is a very real emotion that, if we’re at all honest, we have avoided in transparency.
Consider Elijah in I Kings 19. He was obedient to what God had called Him to do. But in the midst of the Israelites’ disobedience, he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, he replied, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life” (v. 14). I’m pretty confident that Elijah was experiencing some feelings of disappointment. The question of “Was it worth it?” most likely went through his mind.
Guys like Moses, David, and even Jesus all dealt with disappointment. I’m glad I’m not alone in feelings of inadequacy or disappointment.
Here are a few words of encouragement when disappointment makes its presence known in our collegiate and young adult ministries?
1. Know where to take your disappointment.
Our tendency is to complain or rant to others about the circumstances of our disappointment. And, honestly, we need to pour our hearts out, otherwise that disappointment will eventually turn to discouragement. In the Psalms, David often expressed his disappointment to God. Never be afraid to be honest with God about your disappointment. However, I find when I express the disappointment I’m feeling about a certain situation, my questions and perspective change. It suddenly isn’t about me anymore. It’s also important to have valued friends in ministry that you can be honest with and who won’t allow you to rant but will give you permission to be honest.
2. Take time to assess why you’re disappointed about an aspect of ministry.
When we have a proper perspective, we’re able to take a look at why we may be disappointed. Were there false expectations? How realistic were our goals and perspectives? For many of us, the end of a school year is a good time to take a look back and evaluate what went well and what didn’t. Be realistic about areas you may have experienced disappointment. If we never take the time to be honest about why we’re disappointed, it could lead to significant discouragement and burnout in the future.
3. Don’t look back.
I’m really thankful for rear view mirrors, but they’re not helpful if we don’t take our eyes off them and start looking forward. Some of your best days in ministry could very well be ahead of you. You’ve been called to invest in the lives of college students and young adults. There’s nothing the enemy would value more than to keep you stuck in a state of disappointment about things of the past. We can learn a great deal from past disappointments, but we can’t live in them. Get up, brush it off, be realistic, and take a step forward.
Many things can and will define us. Let’s not allow disappointment to be one of those.
Mark Whitt is the Collegiate and Young Adult Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. Before joining Lifeway, he spent many years on the campus of Murray State University as a campus minister. Connect with Mark via Twitter.