Why Isn’t Ministry Fulfilling?

I once interviewed the pastor of a 16,000+ member church. By most church growth standards, he had been successful. When I spoke with him, however, he told me that there were some days he wished he could work at a coffee shop, serving lattes and mochas, instead of preaching to thousands of people. Why?

There is nothing wrong with being a barista. There is nothing ignoble or lowly about serving lattes and mochas. But why would the leader of a megachurch want to switch roles in such a dramatic way? Many who are in ministry have probably felt the same way. There are days — usually more days than we’d like to admit — where we simply want to step away, take a break, and pretend as if we had none of our heavy responsibilities.

In these periods of agitation and introspection, we may also realize that ministry is not fulfilling us like we thought it would. For years perhaps, we trained for, thought about, prepared ourselves, and finally entered “the ministry,” only to find that our hearts are the same, our habits haven’t changed, and we aren’t fulfilled like we thought we would be. We’re disappointed by it. We’ve “attained,” as it were, but we haven’t arrived at that point of satisfaction and fulfillment. What’s missing?

We become Disillusioned by the Difficulty

Often, it’s the drudgery of the role that brings times of disillusionment. Each day, men and women in ministry face some of the most challenging situations. Our job does not require hard hats or hazmat suits, but it does require spiritual armor and spiritual combat. The difficulties will come, and when they do, it’s easy to become disillusioned by our role, and completely unsatisfied by what we experience.

We Look for Fulfillment in All the Wrong Places

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve been looking for fulfillment in something that cannot fulfill. This is the problem that God spoke of in Jeremiah 2:  “They have deserted me, even though I am the spring of water that gives life. And they have dug their own wells. But those wells are broken. They can’t hold any water.” Our broken wells of self-fulfillment have run dry. When this happens, our only hope for fulfillment is to run to God, the only life-giving source of satisfaction.

We’ve all experienced this type of disappointment. As a kindergartener, we look forward to joining the ranks of the “big kids” in elementary school. When we find out that sixth grade isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, we yearn to be in junior high. Those are the cool people, right? If only that were true. So, we can’t wait to enter high school, a life of joy and freedom — boyfriends, girlfriends, driver’s license, parties, jobs… until then we can’t wait for it to end. Then we go to college where we’ll finally enter that period of satisfaction, stability, direction, and success. But after a few semesters, we’re looking forward to getting out of college. What’s next? Marriage! That will be totally fulfilling, right? But after a few months, the excitement fades. What will fulfill us next? Children? So, we start a family, thinking that our children will somehow fulfill us. And on and on we go through life, looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

Writer Dan Bouchelle describes a point in his pastoral journey when, ‎”I looked to my ministry for self-validation instead of modeling self-denial.” As a result, he went through a period of anger and frustration. When we look to ministry — or anything for that matter — to find deep fulfillment and ultimate satisfaction, we will be disappointed.

Faithfulness for the Long Haul

We’re commanded to be faithful, not to seek self-fulfillment. Perhaps we’re too eager for reward on this side of heaven, whereas Christ promised the “well-done” after our journey is over. If we seldom receive a thank-you, a heartfelt commendation, or a warm encouragement, things will be tough. But it is still necessary to carry on in faithfulness — doing what we’ve been called to do.

There will be days when you wish you were cheerfully handing a customer a frappucino instead of grieving with a couple over the loss of a child. There will be times when you wish you could be cleaning the coffee shop restroom instead of laboring to patch up someone’s failing marriage. There will be times when you want to shrug off the weight of the world, and find liberation in something else…anything else!

At this point, it’s time to drink from the well that will never run dry. It’s time to flee to the only true source of fulfillment, joy, and power. It’s time to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” By looking to Jesus, we are able to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

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  • Reply Willem Van 't Spijker June 19, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Hoe verfrissend om zo iets te lezen. Hoe waar is het ook. Hoewel: ook na bijna 29 jaar in deze dienst zou ik niet willen veranderen. Al vind ik ook veel genoegen in het maken van een lekkere koffie, of een mooie en voedzame maaltijd…

    • Reply daniel June 19, 2012 at 6:41 am


      How refreshing to read this. How true it is. However, even after nearly 29 years in ministry, I would not change, even though I do find a lot of enjoyment in making a good coffee or a nice, nutritious meal…

  • Reply David June 19, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Great article and so true. I too frequently consider doing something else because it is tough in ministry. Yet at the same time I am driven with the desire to honour God. It is a strange tension at times.

  • Reply Russ June 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

    This one really hit home. Thank you for posting it for your readers to be encouraged and challenged at the same time. How quickly we lose sight of Jesus, Himself. Hebrews 12:2-3 is a great reminder to all of us, of just how much He gave. . . willingly and selflessly.

  • Reply Steve June 19, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Thoughtful article. I am a pastor entering what Richard Rohr calls the second half of life, with one foot over the threshold of freedom and the other stuck in the mud of ministry as performing, achieving, and people pleasing. I continue to be surprised at how obsessed I can be with things that hold me back from the freedom of true servanthood that awaits me. I have been fortunate to have remarkable pastoral appointments. Thanks for the reminder that even attainment is unfulfilling and only the source of true living water can keep my soul enlivened.

  • Reply Pastor Lucy June 19, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Needed to read this today. Becomes so clear that the question of fulfillment is answered when God’s call is answered. These are His people (not yours) and they can never give you more than they give the relationship you are trying to get them to develop with the Father. Both you and them have to stand at “the spring.”

  • Reply Marcia Ann Mims Coppertino June 19, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Yes indeed! the problem with anyone feeling dissolutioned with their Ministry is that the “sheep” they hope to find and Minister to really AND TRULY do not want to be ministered to, and this reflects in their walk, faith and deeds pertaining to the call of the ministry on and in their lives. How can one reach a people who do not care to recognize that the Christ essence is needed in their lives? That Christ really AND TRULY did come from above, die for them and who returned to the Father in heaven with the redemptive power of their salvation? Carry on oh minister of God AND LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY! We are called to warn the wicked, and nothing more! We are called to minister to those who would hear and listen and see salvation hope in their lives and nothing more. As for the others….SHAKE THE DUST OFF OF YOUR FEET and move on to the next. The Christ called 12 to him and one defected and in the end ALL FLED! You know the sorry end all met with in 70 C.E. when their precious temple (modern day world of commerce, gold and silver, defaming and degrading music…) all was destroyed before their very eyes. Do your part and the Lord will part the red sea in your life…for YOU to walk across in PEACE AND HOLINESS!

  • Reply A Pastor June 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Very refreshing. Sometimes it seems, when your ministry hits a certain plateau then ministry will be fulfilling,……… because surely it can’t be fulfilling now with just a few sheep. It just reminds me that no matter what the size of the ministry, there will always be problems and issues that have to be dealt with and so as my own pastor always says “Enjoy the journey”, thanks for the reminder.

  • Reply JCB June 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be
    When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory”.

    “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” 2Cor 4:17

    Thanks for the encouraging article! Hits the nail on the head I think. 🙂

  • Reply Hurting Pastor June 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    WOW! Excellent article! I have been going though some deep trials, feeling betrayed, being hit with hurt after hurt in the midst of intense front line labors for the Lord! Now it seems literally all is lost, ministry, friendships and I’m trying to make sense of it all. I know God has a purpose and plan, I know to trust Him, I know to stay read up and prayed up in his word. I’m clinging to Ps 91, Ps 46, and Isa 26:1, Ps 27 also listening to encouraging songs. I can’t wait for this season of trial to end and pass and I’m looking for the Lord to restore me somehow! I have done and am doing all I know to do and it’s so painful. But I keep preaching to myself Prov 3:5-6.

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