Clergy discouragement and satisfaction: part two

In my last post, I covered five factors that contribute to clergy discouragement. Now I want to turn to the other side of the story: clergy satisfaction. I believe six habits fuel legitimate clergy satisfaction.

Worship the God we preach, teach and recommend to others. Some clergy persons find this easy, but most in my experience have to work at it. Reading scripture, prayer, reflection, waiting in silence on God, experiencing and re-experiencing  that God loves us and does not measure us on the basis of accomplishments—nothing grants more peace than worship. Each clergy person must fashion ways to worship that work for him or her. Personally, I find reading my way through the Revised Common Lectionary coupled with quiet, centering prayer effective.

Make and keep a few good friends. Such friends come to know you well. They can challenge or affirm you in ways no one else can. Long-term heart friends love you with an unbreakable love, even though they come to know your flaws all too well. Such friends look out for one another as best they may, and they walk alongside one another through the inevitable good and bad days of our lives. I make a point of corresponding or talking with at least one such friend each week regardless of how hectic church or personal life might be.

Practice faithfulness with regard to your work. It’s rather amazing how much satisfaction comes with paying attention to our daily ministerial chores. When you finish a day knowing you’ve prayed for others, visited the suffering, studied the scriptures, given leadership where needed, and the like, you just might find yourself able to sleep well. Have you done everything that needed doing, let alone everything others thought you should do? Of course not! But you have done what you can for that day, and that’s satisfying.

Embrace suffering as a spiritual opportunity. I think this strategy is difficult for American Christians and clergy to consider, but I find it consistent with following Christ. Do not seek to suffer, but when others hurt us or the course of our ministries disappoint us, let’s take hold of our suffering and turn it to good purpose. Might our pain push us somehow to grow in Christ, explore elements of ministry we’ve not previously considered, shift the way in which we express our vocation, empathize with others, or lean a bit more on God?

Enjoy the small victories. All of us, I suspect, love dramatic stories of enormous change in the lives of congregations and individuals. Most of ministry, though, consists in helping persons and churches discover and take small steps toward recognizing and living into their potential in Christ. When we learn to find delight in such “small” things, we start to experience ongoing satisfaction.

Practice love (agape). We clergy know the definition of agape or Christ-like love: to seek the good of the other even at great expense to one’s self. At its core, the ministerial calling is an opportunity to identify with Christ, and the surest way to do so is to practice such love under all circumstances. As we do so, we find ourselves learning to partner with God, to align all that we are with what God is doing in the world: agape. Our deepest satisfaction bubbles up as a byproduct of such a focus.

Editor’s note: Part One was published Aug. 28.

Mike Smith

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Mike Smith serves as Senior Pastor of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City, Knoxville, Tenn. He is co-author of "Mount and Mountain: A Reverend and a Rabbi Talk About the Ten Commandments."

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