meZaC80October is “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Surely we Revs don’t do what we do expecting to get goodies or accolades from those we serve, but it feels good when a congregation takes the time to notice and care about our work on their behalf.

Taking that word “appreciation” in a little different direction: Can any not-a-Rev ever fully appreciate what we do/give/are as professional church leaders? Can others ever know the heart-lifting blessings? Can they fully grasp the deep pain that born of our extravagant investment in God’s agenda often unrealized? Not likely. And, at the end of the day, that leaves us holding a mixed bag of professional successes and failures.

And that brings us to this week’s question:

Dear Matriarchs,

Recently, I got word that I did not receive a grant I hoped to use to start a new program. It’s not the first time I’ve been rejected for a grant or program, and I know better than to count on proposals that will be judged by other human beings. But this time, well, as a colleague put it, this was a GIANT BUMMER. I find I am not only “what if-ing” the proposal and the process for preparing it, but also wondering if I am moving in the wrong direction vocationally.

What are your go-to resources in times of disappointment or failure in ministry?

Sincerely,
Bummed Out

Have we experienced failure and disappointment? Oh, yes, we have! Read on:

Julia Seymour

I would like to congratulate you on putting in the time and effort for the grant proposal. While I understand that you did not win that race, you made the effort to run it and that is commendable in its own right. Good for you for keeping your eyes open for opportunities and reaching for new possibilities. 

That said, I’m thinking about what I do in seasons of disappointment or failure. To learn from my mistakes, I would tell you what HAS NOT worked. It’s not gone well when I’ve told myself that I knew I wouldn’t get it or when I comb through something, looking for my mistakes. It hasn’t gone well when I haven’t fully acknowledged my disappointment and given myself time to grieve some of the dreams that I had dared to dream. 

What HAS worked: I like a dedicated time of being bummed. It is good to acknowledge being sad without attempting to reframe or fix. After that, it can be worth brainstorming with friends or colleagues about other ways to achieve the aim or dream, if that goal still holds true. Sometimes, in a season of disappointment, I seek out a new skill. At the hardest point in my life to date, I taught myself to knit from YouTube. That could be because I didn’t want to feel like a failure and learning something new gave me a reframing device, but sometimes doing something new or different feels like making use of the compost of the failed situation. 

My TL:DR is 1) take care of yourself in ways that are meaningful to you, 2) brainstorm with friends or colleagues, 3) learn something new or make something that gives you a sense of purpose and hope, and 4) remember that a particular failure, disappointment, or season doesn’t define you. 

Peace be with you.

Sharon Mack Temple

Julia, what wise words and practical advice! Note to self: Learning something new would be a great spiritual practice.

Saying more about the self-talk part of what you said:

I find it very helpful to pay attention to the stories I am telling myself about myself, the event/outcome and its meaning. After I let myself get all “wallow-y” (is that a word?) with my feelings for awhile, I attempt to be aware of how I may be starting to skew the story. Am I telling myself a story that makes me into the sole culprit (failure) or that convinces myself that *anyone* else could have done better? Have I come to a conclusion about myself or my professional worth that is not only unkind, but false?

Another story I tell myself is that this— whatever this is — was my own thing. Ministry’s “we-ness” (is that a word?) is not always easy to see and identify, especially when it feels like a solo project/effort. An honest examination of my story will reveal the other players who affected the outcome, and it will reveal those who were/are walking with me, in person or in prayer.

Be bold, stay strong, and, when you are ready, put your fabulous self back out there!

* * * * *
How about you Revs? What do we do when we experience deep disappointment in ministry? Add to our Matriarch wisdom by adding your own strategies in the comments below.


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Dealing With Ministry Disappointment

  1. In additional what Julia and Sharon have already shared, is having a spiritual director both for the “yuck this sucks” part as well as the discernment question you have asked.

    Like

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