Ministry leaders all have up and down seasons. Enthusiasm waxes and wanes. Work can energize and drain us. Sometimes even though we know we were called to ministry, our passion for our call diminishes, and then we wonder if we are still called to ministry. If this happens to you, remember that a loss of passion for your call does not necessarily mean you are done with ministry in your current role or with your current church or agency. And it doesn’t mean God has released you from your call. It just means you need to think about:
- what your call is,
- your expectations about what fulfilling your call will be like,
- how you personally are fulfilling your call, and
- your ministry’s mission.
I have another post about developing a passion for your mission that focuses on developing passion by knowing God’s heart. I recommend you read that post as well because there is nothing like seeing your work the way God sees it to motivate you. And if you have lost all sense of call and are doing your job without any connection to God’s leadership, my post about partnering with God should help you re-establish a dependence on his direction.
However, this post focuses on practical things you can do to rekindle your passion for your call. Leaving ministry is not your only option and the best years of your ministry may still be ahead of you. It might be that all you need to do is make some adjustments to what you think about your call or how you are fulfilling it. So, let’s start.
1. Relive Your Call Experience
To correctly discern if you have been released from your call, go back to the call you received (and any other ways you’ve felt called since then). The goal is to find greater clarity about your call and help you understand it in today’s context. Then you will know better how to pray about your call and to assess your options. Are these options variances to your call, logical extensions of your call, or outside of your call?
God does not use a formula to call people to ministry. He calls people many different ways. Don’t think less of your call if it came about a different way than others experienced theirs. Some had a dramatic word from the Spirit that called them to ministry. Others came to a gradual realization of their call based on circumstances, personal interest, or conversations. I’ve heard several hundred call stories and I’ve never heard the same one twice. Treasure how God worked in your life to call you into ministry.
Write Your Story
If you have already written out the story of your call, read it again now to refresh your mind. Otherwise, think back to when you discerned your call and capture the story by using the following points as a guide. And then update that story with any further times of discernment about your call.
- What was happening in your life at the time
- Whether the call found you “out of the blue” or if you were seeking to discover what God wanted you to do
- Your emotions upon receiving the call; for example, excitement. If excitement, what excited you? Be specific.
- Whether the call was a natural fit that made sense to you or if it was a radical departure
- Who helped you discern your call
- The steps you took throughout the discernment process
- The timing of the discernment process, whether quick or slow
- How much you relied on trust and faith in God when you accepted the call
- The reactions you received as you shared your call with others
- How the call affected your plans, your career, and your family
You may not have anything to say for some of these points, but the more vivid your story, the more it will help you understand what God wanted you to do when you were called.
Recall Your Dreams
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
Remember the enthusiasm you had when you came to work at your current ministry and when you accepted the job you have now. What were your dreams for what you would do and accomplish? Relive the early days and note how you have accomplished or expanded your dreams over time. Are you still dreaming today? Ask God to give you a fresh vision for your call.
Get the Big Picture
You might find it helpful (I know I do) to step back and see how your call fits into the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Your call is not just about you and your job. It is a delegation from God to you to do something important in service to his mission. It is also important to the people God wants you to reach through your call. By understanding the metanarrative of the Bible, you set your work in the context of God’s work and will find it easier to set priorities and determine, of all the good things you could do, which ones are the priority from God’s perspective.
Studying the Bible’s metanarrative doesn’t need to take a lot of time. If you have twenty-one minutes, two videos from The Bible Project provide an excellent overview of the Bible’s metanarrative, the Old Testament Overview and the New Testament Overview
When I review the big picture of what the Bible reveals about God and humanity, I feel very confident that, however turbulent things appear in this moment of history, there is a solid foundation upon which to base my ministry. I see the importance of my work and I challenge myself to do my very best while relying on the Holy Spirit for direction.
Other Ways to Fulfill Your Call
It could be that your passion is dwindling because you have maxed out the opportunity to follow your call in your current position or current ministry. For example, as I worked with a youth pastor to help him regain his passion for his call to ministry, he realized that after more than a decade as a youth pastor he was ready to lead a church. The loss of passion was a signal that he was ready to step up to a new way of pursuing his call. He went on to successfully pastor a church of his own.
Define Your Call
Once you’ve done these reflections, write out a fresh definition of your call. If it has evolved from its original state, defining it in writing will help align your thinking with your call as you now understand it. You will also know more precisely what steps you should take to keep progressing towards your call’s fulfillment.
2. Reset Your Expectations
Sometimes reality can be so different from the dream! We set out working in our call expecting God’s blessing and protection, but while God does always work for our ultimate good, it does not mean that his ways will be exactly what we want them to be. If you are losing passion for your call, it may be time for a reality check. Acknowledging the following realities will change them from being surprises that might defeat you to potential events that you can plan for and overcome. You won’t feel defeated when they pop up.
There Will Be Obstacles
For a number of years, things went very well for CCCC under my leadership, making for an unusually prolonged period of good times. I thought, “This is easy.” But I always qualified that statement by reminding myself, the board, and the staff that continuance of the current good times couldn’t be taken for granted. There will come a day of testing. I didn’t want them devastated if hard times or even normal times returned. “Don’t get cocky or overconfident,” I repeatedly said to myself.
Of course, we worked very hard to make the continuation of those wonder years more likely, but the time of testing did come, more for me than for CCCC. What kept me going was reflecting on my call. On a number of days, I repeated to myself, “I will not let these circumstances prevent me from fulfilling my call!” And with prayer and professional growth, I came through those years.
If you believe the good times are actually the ordinary times, then the first obstacle that arises might knock you down. Some ministries are difficult all the time. Maybe some are easy all the time. But most ministries will have their ups and downs. Work hard, do your best, and acknowledge that there will be tough times. Enjoy the good times while you have them. Do not let the hard times separate you from your call.
It Will Take Time
Sometimes it seems like all we are doing is planting seeds. Wouldn’t it be nice to harvest some of the seeds you have sown and watered over the years! But unrealistic timelines can become demotivating and lead you to wonder, “What’s the use?” One helpful way to keep your passion ignited is to see regular progress towards your hoped-for results.
Set realistic timelines and let God do what only he can do. Read my post How to Stay Inspired When You Are Only Halfway Up the Mountain.
You Will Have to Grow
There is a possibility that leadership is not your strength. Perhaps you misunderstood your call. Maybe it was to serve a mission rather than lead it. If you think this is a possibility, then read Maybe Leadership Isn’t For Me. More likely, though, you correctly heard your call to leadership but you need further equipping to lead well today.
I've had a series of five-year contracts with CCCC (I'm on my fourth). Some time before each renewal, I've said to the board chair, "I was the right person to be the leader when the last contract was signed. Am I still the right leader for the next contract? If not, can I become the right leader for the next five years, or am I not at all the right leader?" My goal is through personal and professional development to be a fresh, new leader perfectly suiting the organization's needs for the next contract period.
Undoubtedly you will have to invest in your personal and professional development over time so you can keep up with all the changes in our society that touch on your mission. You can’t expect that who you were twenty or even five years ago when you accepted your call will still be sufficient to fulfill your call today. Expect the need to learn and practise new skills to come up again and again through your career. Regularly research the best current thinking in your field of ministry. Continuous learning means continuous growth.
There May Be a Cost
There may be some costs that come with your call. For example, as you engage in the lives of your congregation or help people on the street, their stories and problems could take an emotional toll on you. Another example is that what is happening in the world around us could depress us. But we must accept the costs as part of the call and not let them beat us down. After all, Jesus did say to “count the cost” before engaging in ministry. There may be other costs you can identify with your call. Acknowledge them and find ways to mitigate them if you can. Be ready to bear with them if you can’t. As you face these weighty realizations, remember to keep a balanced perspective with all that is good about ministry. My soul, my soul must sing! is a great post that celebrates joy in the ministry workplace.
I highly recommend, as does everyone else who writes on this topic, that you have something apart from your vocational life that restores your soul and gives you joy. My post Work, Work, Work, Work! Is that all there is? will inspire you to emerge from work into a full life. Make family a priority. Find a hobby. Take time to enjoy God’s beautiful world.
State Your Expectations
Review this section and update your list of expectations. Prior to this, your expectations were probably assumed rather than stated, and that likely led to disappointment when they turned out not to be your experience. By listing your updated and maybe more realistic expectations, you won’t suffer disappointment. You are better prepared by knowing what goes along with your call and your passion will endure through it all because you will know your circumstances are just part of life.
3. Examine Yourself and How You Fulfill Your Call
There may be things about you that are holding you back from fulfilling your call. You need to smooth out your rough edges as a ministry leader. I know that as much as I think the obstacles are “out there,” the ones that are really holding me back are very much “in here.” If you are losing enthusiasm for your call, it could be a sign that you have some personal attributes that you need to work on. My post A Self-Checkup for Ministry Leaders will help you work through those internal factors and discover what you can do to set yourself up for greater success. You don’t want to be your own stumbling block.
When you are doing a self-evaluation, it is a good time to also get some honest feedback from people who know you and care for you. You want to find people who truly desire your ministry success and who are willing to speak the truth to you. Listen carefully to them. If you are married, ask your spouse for their observations. No one knows you better than your spouse and no one is as invested in your personal success as your spouse is.
Out of this investigation, develop a personal development plan. Your passion should revive as you enthusiastically take positive action that will help you better live out your call.
4. Reexplore Your Ministry’s Vision/Mission
It could be you have simply fallen into a rut. Perhaps your work is so easy for you that there is no challenge anymore. I find that every time I dive into CCCC’s vision (our End Statement – CCCC members will be exemplary, healthy, and effective Christian ministries) I emerge energized, full of creative thoughts, and itching to get back to work. If you are in a rut, it may be a sign that you are ready for a bigger challenge. That challenge could come from expanding or deepening your vision for your current ministry or it could mean you are ready for a different role somewhere else.
My post, The Untapped Potential of Your Mission Statement, shows you how to explore your strategic statement. Although my passion was not dwindling at all, exploring the CCCC End Statement afresh pumped up my passion for my call and for CCCC many times over. It led to the discovery that CCCC as it was (and as far as it had come), was still just a glimmer of what it could be.
A friend of mine, a retired pastor, gave the closing speech at the 2007 CCCC conference at 95 years of age. John Richardson said his best advice for ministry leaders is, “Don’t die before you are dead.” Don’t give up. Keep going. God’s not done with you yet.
CCCC’s members can discuss this post in The Green.
Key Point: Keep your call fresh and vital!