How to keep moving forward when it feels like you’re going backward

escalator

You probably know the feeling. Despite much prayer, careful planning, and dedicated work, you feel like you are going backwards in your ministry. The enthusiasm and anticipation that was there in the beginning has fizzled, and now the cold, hard reality has set in: this isn’t going as well as you hoped.

I felt this discouragement on a recent Sunday as we began the church service. I looked out at the dozen or so people sitting there and thought, “Where is everybody?” Through much of last year, we averaged between 40-50 people in attendance. However, over the past several weeks, we began to see a significant decline. Of course, no missionary likes to write a prayer letter that begins with such news, but it’s the truth. Sometimes things don’t go well.  People leave, projects fail, and disappointments mount. When they do, we shouldn’t be afraid to share it.

That Sunday evening, when I got home, I just sat in the car and prayed, “God, what do you want me to learn from moments like this when it feels like we are going backwards?” As I thought about this, I came to some conclusions.

1. I must see setbacks as part of God’s grace. Planting a church, or doing anything worthwhile, is never a steady, upward trajectory to success. There are many ups and downs. While we pray and long for and celebrate the victories, God’s grace is sufficient to sustain us during the down days as well. In fact, seen in the right light, these disappointments should help us depend more on Him. Furthermore, God often has unseen benefits behind the despair we are feeling. In this case, it could be that God is pruning people from his church to make it stronger in the long run. It may be that God is teaching me humility and forcing me to rely more on him to change peoples’ lives than on my own programs, preaching, or personality. At this point, I don’t know all the reasons, but I must run to God and trust that he knows what is best for me right now.

2. I must persevere with joy. I shouldn’t be surprised when there are setbacks; I knew going into this that it would be hard. Any good soldier knows to expect hardship, and the same is true for anyone serving Jesus. So, instead of me being resentful towards those who have fallen away or frustrated with people who don’t show the level of commitment I think they should, I must simply plod forward with joy. I must thank God for the people who are with me and that are serving Jesus alongside me. The truth is that it was a privilege I could never deserve just to preach to a dozen people on that Sunday. And really, if you think about it, a week (or even several months) of setbacks is not a good indicator to the true progress being made. If I stopped to look closely, I would see that there are plenty of good things happening as well.

  • We just finished drafting a church constitution. This is a big and very important accomplishment.
  • Sarah is having Bible studies with two girls that will hopefully be baptized soon.
  • One of the men in the church is taking classes at a Bible institute and is growing in his ability to teach  and lead.

The hard part is to persevere with joy. But it’s essential. There are few things more discouraging to a church or an organization than a leader who is always down, always pointing out the negatives, and always complaining about the faults of others.

Maybe things in your church, small-group, or project feel like they are moving backwards. It’s hard and can be discouraging, but don’t give up. God’s grace is sufficient, so persevere with joy.

4 thoughts on “How to keep moving forward when it feels like you’re going backward”

  1. “Persevere with Joy”. You’re correct. It is the hard part but the essential part. Our church too is struggling and I feel myself feeling the exact same way. Everything you mentioned is unfortunately common to God’s entire church at this point.

    One song that God has blessed me with lately from For King and Country is Fix My Eyes on You “Fix My Eyes”

    Hit rewind, click delete Stand face to face with the younger me All of the mistakes All of the heartbreak Here’s what I’d do differently, I’d

    Love like I’m not scared Give when it’s not fair Live life for another Take time for a brother Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all Fix my eyes on You On You

    I learned the lines and talked the talk (Everybody knows it, everybody knows it) But the road less traveled is hard to walk (Everybody knows it, everybody knows) It takes a soldier Who knows his orders To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk, and

    Love like I’m not scared Give when it’s not fair Live life for another Take time for a brother Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all Fix my eyes on You On You

    The things of earth are dimming In the light of Your glory and grace I’ll set my sights upon Heaven I’m fixing my eyes on You, on You I’m fixing my eyes on You, on You I’m fixing my eyes

    Love like I’m not scared Give when it’s not fair Live life for another Take time for a brother Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all Fix my eyes on You On You

    I’ll fix my eyes on you (On you) I’ll fix my eyes on you (On you)

    Submit Corrections Because I think the answer to all our concerns/troubles is to fix our eyes on the One in control; the only One who can and will make things right. Truly, “the things of earth are dimming in the light of His glory and grace”!

    God bless you and your family. Love, Ann

    On Thu, Feb 18, 2016 at 11:38 AM, Booths in Portugal wrote:

    > boothsinportugal posted: ” You probably know the feeling. Despite much > prayer, careful planning, and dedicated work, you feel like you are going > backwards in your ministry. The enthusiasm and anticipation that was there > in the beginning has fizzled, and now the cold, hard reali” >

    1. Hi Ann,

      It’s funny you mention that song. That is one of our Laura and Samuel’s favorite songs right now. They like to sing along on the chorus.
      It is encouraging to remember those words of hope.

      I pray God fills you with hope and joy this day. Thank you so much for caring about us. Much love, David, Sarah, Laura, and Samuel

  2. Thanks for your post. You bless me and all of those who pray for you and the ministry God gave you. You all are loved. I always pray that God would encourage you with fruit in the ministry and that your fruit will remain. Be encouraged it’s not you who bears fruit but God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.