Mourning and Dancing in Ministry Life

(This post was originally published on the Baptist Convention of New England’s blog on November 7, 2019. You can find it here.)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

One thing very few people prioritize when preparing to enter the realm of full-time service is the necessity of emotional engagement. Many ministers consider solid theology and practical know-how the two mighty pillars on which a lifetime of shepherding can be built, but without a practical theology of suffering and celebration, a pastor (and his family) can easily crumble from the inside out. 

Think of this as a kind of bad news, good news concept: an inability to handle bad news makes life in ministry fragile and shallow, while a reluctance to revel in good news produces a joyless sense of unlimited obligation. Let’s tackle each in turn. 

Anyone in ministry can tell you the importance of being able to cope with difficult people, seasons, and circumstances. John 16:33, James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:12, and a host of other passages reveal the common nature of trials.  

So how might one ‘handle bad news’? Through the art of lamenting, mourning, grieving, repentance, and brokenness. Sounds fun, right? But growing in each of these aspects of the normal Christian life can have multiple benefits: maturity, joy, wisdom, integrity, a deeper connection with Jesus, renewed passion, dependence on the Spirit, closer relationships with others, and ministry longevity. 

Surprisingly, pastors and their families often struggle just as much with making the most of happy times as of working through the rough patches. 

‘Reveling in good news’ looks like intentionally planning rhythms of celebrating, sabbathing, praising, and feasting. If you’re great at throwing parties—big or small—for the movement of God in and around you as you serve His people, please teach the rest of us how to do that well. The average pattern in ministry seems to be this: set a goal, work toward the goal, reach the goal, and then set a new goal. Where’s the holy, happy pause? It’s just a neverending cycle of sweaty toil that reflects neither the cadence of creation nor the heart of God.

Jesus, the best Pastor of all, perfectly demonstrated moments of mourning and moments of dancing. He could weep with Mary over the death of Lazarus and cause the best wine ever to flow freely at a wedding. He could sweat drops of blood in agony and call His friends away to a quiet place for replenishment. The Lord beckons His undershepherds to follow both ruts in the road.

Bad news will come, and good news will come. We can either choose to miss these opportunities to grow, or we can prepare to meet them with our whole beings engaged. Want life in ministry to expand your soul and knit your family together? Learn to mourn well. Learn to dance well. And then invite Jesus to join you in those holy moments of meeting whatever news may come. 

(If you’re interested in further engaging this topic, you might find Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality a helpful resource.) 

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