Dealing with Discouragement

Everyone understands discouragement. Discouragement is simply a feeling of having lost confidence or hope. Sure the Bible says that all things are working together for good (Romans 8:28) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35). Yet, it is so common to feel otherwise. Discouragement is very real in the pastoral ministry. Sometimes I feel like I have a PHD in discouragement. I have, at times, been profoundly discouraged as well as, at other times, have had over-riding generalized discouragement. I write this article, not because I have conquered discouragement. But since this is a ‘ministry blog’ I figured that it will most likely scratch many of you where you itch. Maybe not itching there today (hopefully), but maybe will be a blessing at some point. Discouragement is very real and can bite us all from time to time. Plus I got it packaged in 5 A’s 😉

As a communicator, I realize that putting it in a specific experience will help explain the concepts. So I will use a very specific discouraging season in my life to show the process. For me, this was the first 18 months of planting Calvary North Bay in Mill Valley, CA. It was a challenging season as I was trying to get a church off the ground in the Bay Area, work a job, as well as a few other situations that caused much discouragement.


For all us, sometimes it is simply hard to acknowledge the reality of our own hearts. I have found that my discouragement tends to linger when I am unwilling to call it what it is. So much in life hinges on acknowledgement. So we can only begin to deal with discouragement by acknowledging that it is there and that God wants to tend to it.

In that season of my life, it took me awhile to acknowledge that I was simply discouraged. My wife knew it. But I was too proud and unwilling to admit that I was discouraged. When I finally was able to say, “Man! I am discouraged!” God was given room to move in my heart.


Once we can acknowledge that we are discouraged then we have to assess its causes. What is the root cause of my discouragement? Is it a holy or an unholy discouragement? An unholy discouragement is one that is rooted in my own heart issues. I am discouraged because God wants to change my heart. A holy discouragement is one that God wants us to change our circumstances.

In that season, there was a mix of unholy and holy discouragement. On the holy side of things, there were specific heart issues that were being revealed. I was struggling to persevere in ministry and in simply trusting God with the church. I was also being unteachable and prideful. On the unholy side, I realized that I had decided to put myself in some very stress-filled situations. It didn’t have to be but I chose to be there. One side of this was the blog sites that I was on. There was a lot of fighting, bickering and everything was generally negative. Another side was that I was trying to change some things that were completely out of my control.


Once we have assessed the root causes of our discouragement, then we need to make an action plan. What is God asking of us? Are there decisions that we have to make? If my discouragement is an unholy one, I often have to spend time in prayer and repentance. When it is a holy discouragement, I have to make tangible decisions to change my circumstances.

For me, I spent much time talking to my wife about what I seeing and feeling. She was incredibly encouraging and convicting in her assessments. I apologized for much and sought the Lord with much passion. I also had to discipline myself to stay away from discouraging situations online. I pulled myself off of blogs that were driven by arguments or by people always thinking the worst of each other. I also decided to stop trying to change things that are not my responsibility or calling. I needed to focus on what God had put in front of me.


This is all about making sure that I don’t have to re-learn a lesson by not following through on the things that I have learned. This is the thoroughness of keep checking back and ensuring that I wasn’t allowing myself to slip back into the same types of discouragements. In many ways, this is about valuing God’s lessons enough to really want to see them implemented.

I have to keep going back and making sure that I am still living out what I have learned. I have to remind myself that I get to chose what I involve myself in online. I have made a commitment to myself not to engage in endless debates on the internet (especially with people that I do not know). It is one thing to work out issues with friends or people who God has called me to walk through life with in the local body, it is another thing to have endless run arounds with people who you have never met and most likely never will. God has called me to love all people but that doesn’t mean that I need to be involved in every debate with every person sitting in front of a computer. There is to much important ministry to do to get sidetracked. I also need to make sure that I am always doing exactly what God has called me to. In ministry, there are infinite needs and infinite good things to do. But what has God called me to? And simply keeping to that.


Finally, as in all of life, it is all about seeing God’s grace at work. In my discouragement, God’s grace is at work. When the issue is in my heart, God wants to apply his grace afresh to my failings. When my chosen circumstances cause me to be discouraged, God’s grace is at work there as well (even if I am realizing that I am not supposed to be there). So in all of these situations, there is no judgment, there is only grace. And God’s grace is to be appreciated!

Jesus, Big Church, & Small Church

The Training of the Twelve as Local Church Model?

This morning I listened to an interesting discussion between some pastors and missiologists on whether or not we should emphasize large gatherings or smaller gatherings in seeking to do the best job at discipleship. The conversation intrigued me because I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do a good job with discipleship in the context of the church I lead.

One of the center-pieces of the conversation was the idea that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve disciples as portrayed in the gospels should serve as our template for how we function as the local church. I’ve heard this kind of thinking from people who contend that the local church should operate according to a house church model. The house church model often includes:

  • Little to no emphasis on large gatherings (15 or more)
  • Dialogue learning (discussion) versus monologue (preaching)
  • Informality versus formality
  • Group prayer/spiritual gift manifestation versus worship led by an individual

Support for modeling the local church in such a way is often claimed by pointing to how Jesus related to the twelve. People will note that “Jesus spent most of His time with twelve people.” This is true. He spent lots of time eating with, instructing, and training twelve disciples. And thus, as they say, we shouldn’t have local churches made up of hundreds or thousands, but of tens.


 The Real Focus of Jesus’ Small Group: Leadership Training

But can we really look to Jesus’ relationship to the twelve as depicted in the gospels as a template for the local church? Did Jesus really intend for us to do so? I would contend that this is not the case. First of all, the truth is that while the gospels spend much time describing Jesus’ interactions with the twelve, they do not exclusively do so. They also portray Jesus teaching and sending the seventy as well as often speaking to what the Bible calls the multitudes. Jesus is seen in some cases preaching to thousands of people at one time.

 As opposed to serving as a template for how the local church should be organized, I would contend that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve is more of a template for how we should do leadership training for the local church. The men Jesus spent so much time with ultimately became the first pastors and church-planters for the local church. He spent time instructing them formally and allowing them to participate in the ministry He was doing. He would send them out to do ministry and bring them back to the huddle and explain where they needed to grow. And at the end of His physical stay on earth He sent them out in the power of the Spirit to establish and lead local churches.

And yet, the local churches these men led were in many cases anything but small groups or what many have in mind today when they talk about house churches. The church in Jerusalem was thousands strong, and they had no problem with that. The church in Antioch was also a huge church and they saw no problem with that. The early church met both “publically and house to house.” (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20) It wasn’t just house to house, but publically that they met. They met in the large gathering areas of the temple. (Acts 2:46) What’s more is that archaeological excavation projects have revealed that many of the so-called house churches described in Acts met in huge courtyard and banquet halls of wealthy homes that could seat hundreds of people.

Besides the large numbers of Christians coming together in large gatherings, Acts also shows us the continuation of Jesus’ practice of training leaders of God’s people in smaller apprentice-styled ministry groups. Acts 20 reveals Paul traveling with a group of ministry trainees (verses 2-4) and also gives us a glimpse into how he related to a group of pastors he’d trained according to the pattern of Jesus’ training of the twelve as seen in the gospels (verses 17-38).

We get another clue as to where the apostles stood on having large gatherings by taking a look at the New Testament epistles. It is worth noting that in most cases the epistles are addressed to entire churches, and were intended to be read and taught in the presence of all believers living in the city to which the letter came. In Ephesians 6:1-3 the exhortations addressed directly to children show that even the kids were assumed to be present for the reading and teaching of the New Testament letters when they were originally written and delivered. Also, nowhere do the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) exhort pastors to keep the numbers of local churches down to small group sizes for the purpose of discipleship, but rather imply the multiplication of leadership, numbers of believers, and the open preaching of the Word to all under their charge. What’s more, the exhortations to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3) are addressed to entire churches.


So what’s the point? Am I against house churches, small groups, community groups, and so on? Absolutely not! They are invaluable. There is a type of discipleship and community that can only be nurtured in a smaller context that happens in smaller groups. The pastors of the church I lead are right now praying with our church about starting ten more house church style fellowships in addition to those we already have going before the end of 2012.

But small gatherings are only one aspect of how we should seek to facilitate discipleship. They are not the template for us to follow in establishing principles for local church size, dynamics, and overall structure. I don’t believe that Jesus’ training of the twelve serves as a template for how we should do church, but how we should train leaders for the broader church. Look to Acts and the epistles for a template for doing church. Look to the gospels as a template for leadership training