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Let Downs

When I meet other Pastors and Church Leaders, I love asking them questions. And, I’ll admit, my favorite

questions are for them who are older than myself and have more experience than I do. I feel it’s

important for Leaders from diverse backgrounds and generations to connect. It’s from this heart that, a

few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the generational differences in leaders. To me, why shouldn’t I

glean from someone who is not only on a similar journey as me but has been through experiences on that

journey that I could learn from? And my first question is always the same: ”If you can go back to 41

years old in ministry, what is one thing you would tell yourself?” I thirst for that kind of perspective. I

want an “iron sharpening iron” moment. And one recent Sunday night was another moment for me.

After an evening prayer service, I met the father of one of our attendees. He’s a pastor from a town about

30 miles away. And when she introduced her father to me and said that he was a pastor, the question

came out of my mouth: “If you can go back to 41 years old in ministry, what is one thing you would tell

yourself?” He pondered for just a few seconds, and then he said three words:

“Beware of disappointments.” These three words consumed my mind for the next 48 hours. I’ve talked

with my wife about them. The following Monday, I brought it up to a bunch of pastors friends I meet

with regularly. What a simple yet extremely deep thought to a very open question. I want you to note:

He didn’t say keep yourself from disappointments; just have an awareness of them. There’s a big


I don’t think it’s humanly possible to live, let alone do ministry, without experiencing disappointments.

People disappoint me. My wife disappoints me. I disappoint me. If I were really honest with you, I’ve even

been disappointed in God (this usually happens when God hasn’t done what I think he should do).

Just a few weeks ago,my wife and I were wrapping up a seminar with some Q&A from the group,and the

question came up: “How do I avoid disappointments?” My answer was simple: “It’s impossible.” Why? You

can’t keep yourself from experiencing disappointment, but you can guard your

heart during disappointment.

Disappointments are not always the results of sin, but often a natural experience in our human journey.

I’m not trying to develop a pessimistic perspective but a hopeful attitude and fruitful viewpoint of

navigating through them. And it begins with what Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23: “Guard your

heart.” The heart, in Hebrew writings, wasn’t the place of emotions, but the seat of the mind and will. In

today’s society, we’d say, “Guard and protect your thoughts.” So the question really is: How do we, as

pastors and church leaders, protect our thoughts through this very normal human experience? Here are

five truths that will help you guard your heart.

1. Disappointments ≠ Failure

First off, failure is disappointing. I can’t say I enjoy failure and look forward to the next one. But not all

disappointments equate to a failure on your part. I meet far too many people who immediately connect a

disappointment to a personal failure. Actually, I’m one of those persons. Sometimes our unrealistic

expectations set us up for the fall. Other times, our definition of “success” needs to be redefined so that

we can see the “win” in what we accomplished instead of being blinded by the disappointment we just


2. Disappointment can be a very good thing.

One of the best ways to guard our hearts during disappointment is to learn a perspective of

disappointment. Instead of looking to beat yourself up with self-hate or self-loathing, step into a place

where you’re looking to learn.

Every disappointment I engage in is an invitation to grow. Whether it’s personal or pastoral, having a

healthy approach and asking, “How can I grow?” isn’t shrugging off the issue, or making light of it, but

looking to process and engage it appropriately.

3. Closed doors help direct our focus and vision.

I don’t know about you, but “closed doors” in my life have been hugely disappointing. Whether it’s

something I wanted to do or a ministry I wanted to launch, I get very headstrong about what I want to do.

But I’ve learned over the past few years that every closed door I experience fine-tunes my vision. It helps

me to see and hear how God is directing me. [Three keys to getting through dry seasons in ministry.]

Early in ministry, I spent so much time beating on doors that God had closed that I didn’t see the ones he

was opening up. I can get so tunnel-visioned that, at times, it takes a closed door to get me to stop

pursuing something that isn’t the best or healthiest way to go.

4. You can close the gap.

It’s said that the gap between expectation and experience is disappointment. Though I believe

disappointment is an inevitable experience, I find that it is possible to lessen the depths of it by effective

communication. Communication both articulates what is on your heart while guarding against the

frustration that can stem from ignorance.

The best way to close the gap is to effectively communicate expectation as well as develop realistic

experiences. It may sound overly obvious, but clearly communicated expectations help pave the way for

great experiences with little to no disappointment. And the place that we need to evaluate is the clarity of

our communication. As I say so often to young couples, “Just because you talk a lot doesn’t mean you

clearly communicate.”

5. You must use the right measuring tape.

It’s so easy for me to measure my own success by something called “comparison.” I’ve spent so much

time seeding disappointment in my own spirit because, no matter how much the church has grown, I am

still looking at other pastors and other ministries that much more “successful”—and constantly seeding

disappointment in my spirit.

I have to constantly remind myself: Comparison is the thief of joy. It will seed envy in my spirit and birth

discouragement in my life. I believe in evaluating yourself and ministry. I believe in personal and

ministerial growth. I want mentors to speak into me. But if my measure of success comes from

comparing to others, I’m not looking to grow the kingdom but to feed my own pride.

Pastor Dan’s three simple words stirred me. Why? Because the fear of disappointment ruled my mind for

my first seven or eight years of ministry. I didn’t want to disappoint my wife, my parents, my church and,

most importantly, God. Fear of disappointment strangled the breath I needed to inhale the faith, hope and

joy the Holy Spirit desired for me to experience. It’s for that reason Paul wrote to a young pastor these


For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Beware of disappointment. Disappointments are learning experiences that are just that—experiences to

learn from, not anchors to sink you.

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