Hebrews 12:1–3 exhorts ministry leaders to be sure they don’t lose heart in their work for the kingdom of God.
Ministry leadership has never been an easy endeavor. In the best of times, it requires all that you have. In difficult times, it seems to demand far more.
I do not need to waste any time or energy trying to convince you that you have been leading in the midst of an extremely difficult season.
Whether it is the crumbling moral framework of the culture at large, the growing divide along a number of “controversial fault lines” among our own church members, the sudden shifts to how you go about leading and caring for the church, or the debilitating personal challenges you have experienced in the midst of so much uncertainty—most leaders are struggling not to lose heart.
A recent study from Barna revealed that 38% of pastors have strongly considered leaving pastoral ministry as a result of the challenges faced while leading through and beyond the pandemic. Honestly, that number seems low to me.
So the question is not if leaders are weary, but maybe more significantly: Why are leaders so weary?
Is it possible that the discouragement of leading in and through difficult seasons goes deeper than the external leadership challenges we all face?
The Loss of Heart
Although the external challenges of this season have been unrelenting and quite real, I am convinced the greatest threat to godly leadership is not the loss of church members, cultural influence, or certainty around our ironclad strategic plans. No, the greatest threat to godly leadership is the loss of heart.
In ministry, the hard work is actually the heart work.
Whether we like it or not, what we accomplish for God cannot be parsed out from who we are becoming.
Our work flows through the heart, because the heart is the dwelling place of Christ (Ephesians 3:17).
This is why the writer of Proverbs called us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), Jesus told us to keep our hearts (John 16:33), and Paul celebrated that he didn’t lose heart in the face of great challenges (2 Corinthians 4:1).
Read Jesus Next Door to help you not to lose heart in ministering to your neighbors.
One of my favorite moments in the Scriptures unfolds near the battlefield described in 1 Samuel 17. You know the story well.
Young David’s father sent him to deliver food to his brothers who had been deemed old enough and brave enough to fight. David arrived on the scene like an underappreciated Postmates driver bringing food to a party to which no one invited him.
Shortly after arriving, David discovered the Israelite army was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually defeated. Day after day the army had faced the boastful threats of their larger-than-life opponent, and at some point along the way they began taking his threats to heart.
In 1 Samuel 17:32, an amazing exchange occurred between young David and King Saul.
David articulated the challenge facing Saul and his men quite simply: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
David knew the greatest challenge was not the size of Goliath or the technological advancements of the Philistine army.
The greatest threat to Israel’s future was the loss of heart.
So how does a Christian leader keep their heart in a land dominated by “impending giants”?
Hebrews 12:1–3 and Our Hearts
Although many places in the Scriptures speak to this question, the clarity and practicality of Hebrews 12:1–3 captivates me:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Much like Jesus in John 16:33, the Hebrew writer leaves no room for confusion. He says, I tell you all of these things so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The application of these inspired words has been a source of life and strength to me as I’ve stood, like you, in the land of giants in recent days.
Four Way to Ensure You Don’t Lose Heart
So how can we practically live in these truths as leaders?
1. Let Go
The past two years did not make us or break us; rather, they merely revealed us. If you are anything like me, some areas of your life and leadership probably pleasantly surprised you.
Undoubtedly, you discovered some parts of your life that were more resilient, faithful, durable, and beautiful than you would have known had you not gone through the pruning that you did.
But if you are honest, you probably also discovered some aspects of your life and leadership that you are not too eager to discuss or display broadly.
I love how the writer of Hebrews deals with this reality. He says some of the things that slow us down are not necessarily sinful; at the same time, they are not helpful for moving us toward all that God has in store for us.
In other words, they are hindrances.
We make peace with some sins in our lives that entangle our hearts, minds, and habits and seek to destroy the work of God in us and through us.
We must let go of both of these.
What a sobering thought.
Several times a year, my wife and I go away together for the sole purpose of allowing God to speak into our lives in a fresh way.
One of the questions we always ask is: Jesus, will you please show us what we need to let go of in order to faithfully love you and serve you well in this season?
We also ask God these questions:
- Have any bad habits crept in?
- Are there any methods of ministry that have run their course?
- Have I said yes to the right things and no to the wrong things?
The list could go on.
If we have the courage to ask, God has the kindness to answer.
2. Keep Going
But keeping your heart is not just about letting go. You can find real beauty in the commitment to simply keep going.
Our culture doesn’t typically celebrate perseverance well. We tend to be more impressed by the newest, fastest, and shiniest fads.
But with every passing year of life and leadership, I find myself being drawn not to those who started well but to those who learned to finish well.
On some days, as you know, the noblest work of leadership is simply to keep moving forward, even if you aren’t sure which direction is forward.
That’s why the Hebrew writer reminds us that leadership in the kingdom of God is a marathon, not a wind sprint.
The call of godly leadership is not simply to run but also to run with perseverance because the course is long.
Part of running this race is inviting others to join you. Read Jesus Next Door to learn how to love your neighbors practically and encourage them to partake in the Christian journey.
3. Run True
Keeping heart also requires that we learn how to run true again. The witness of Scripture consistently points to the beautiful reality that God made you on purpose (Psalm 139) and for a purpose (Ephesians 2).
The Hebrew writer taps into this reality in verse one as he calls us to “run the race marked out for us.”
The goal is not simply to keep running, but to keep running the specific race that God made for us to run.
Although many can inspire and teach me, I must only give my life to running the race marked out for me by Christ.
Very few things will deplete our life and energy like running the wrong race.
4. Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Finally, the ultimate key to keeping our hearts in the midst of leadership fatigue is fixing our eyes on Jesus.
I know this sounds so obvious that most of us will be tempted to skip right past this part, but humor me for just a moment.
From whom do you truly take your leadership cues? Who really inspires you? Whose voice has the greatest weight in your life as a leader?
I love reading books, listening to podcasts, and joining coaching groups—but none of those are sufficient for sustaining my heart.
Unless Jesus is truly my leadership hero, my heart is prone to fail.
I love how the Hebrew writer calls us to remember how Jesus faced struggles as our source of strength.
You can almost hear the echoes of John 14:27, which takes place while Jesus walked with his disciples toward Gethsemane. It is here that Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
In other words, This enduring peace in the face of such impending hardship will be yours as well, but only if you come to me.
If you have lost sight of Jesus in the midst of a challenging season of ministry, then now is the time for you to slow down and ask Jesus to lift your eyes beyond your circumstances so you can see him clearly once again.
Don’t Lose Heart: Keep Running the Race
It has been a challenging season to say the least, but God is not done with you yet!
If you find yourself among the 38% who have contemplated throwing in the towel, you are not alone and you are not done.
Today is a new day filled with new mercies.
Ask Jesus to:
- Reveal anything you need let go of as you follow him into the future.
- Give you the perseverance you need to keep going even when it is tough.
- Help you run the race he has marked for you to uniquely run
- Open your eyes so you can see him more clearly than all your circumstances
Our world desperately needs wholehearted leaders who are surrendered to Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, and running the race marked out for them.
The world needs leaders like you.
So no matter what may come, don’t lose heart because you are going to need it.
Read Dave Clayton’s Jesus Next Door to learn more about not losing heart in reaching your neighbors with the Gospel.