The Danger of Discontentment
Picture this familiar scene in pastoral ministry. You are sitting in your office with a young couple. Their body language tells you how things are going before you ask a single question. They are a few years into marriage and to say the honeymoon is over would be an understatement. He is not the prince charming she envisioned. She is not the princess he expected. Finances are tight, work is hard, and they don’t like their life. You begin to ask some questions and you hear these infamous words, “Pastor, if only… if only my spouse were different; if only we had more money; if only we lived somewhere else; if only my job situation changed. If only…then I would be happy.”
“If only” thinking is a deceptive mindset that breeds discontentment in the Christian’s heart. It denies the sovereignty and sufficiency of God in one’s life and it seeks to find joy, identity, and satisfaction in circumstance instead of in Christ. Now, there is nothing wrong with hoping for, praying for, and even pursuing different circumstances in life (1 Cor 7:21), but there is a difference between humbly praying for and pursuing circumstantial change verses having a discontent heart. The discontent heart makes an idol out of circumstantial change. The discontent heart is more interested in personal comfort than in honoring Christ. The discontent heart grumbles, compares, envies, and grows anxious. The discontent heart says God is not enough.
While pastors seek to faithfully shepherd others struggling with discontentment, pastors are not exempt from this sin in their own lives. It might have different manifestations than the young married couple, but it is no less serious before the Lord. Discontentment about ministry can easily creep in if the heart is unguarded. What are some of the dangers pastors face regarding discontentment?
1. Discontentment with Your Ministry
You arrive at a church with lofty dreams for the glory of the Lord, but a few years in, things are not progressing as quickly as you had hoped. Patient shepherding is replaced by grumbling in the heart. Impatience and even irritability arise because this is not what you envisioned. Instead of entrusting yourself to the Lord you begin to run to “if only” thinking. The mind transitions from a desire to equip and pray for maturity in the church to manipulation, pragmatism, and frustration. Issues like attendance numbers, budget numbers, or ministry success (whatever the mind might consider that to be) become the focus instead of faithfulness to Christ and His church!
2. Discontentment with Your Gifts and Talents
Comparison is one of the greatest seeds of discontentment. There is the temptation to look at other pastors and envy their gifts and talents. One begins to covet their preaching ability, leadership ability, shepherding ability, or brilliant mind. While pastors should learn from and aspire to imitate godliness in others, one can quickly fall into the sin of envying what God has entrusted to another. How easily we forget 1 Corinthians 4:7, where Paul reminds the Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not receive?” When we are envious of others gifts and talents we are complaining to God that we don’t like how He made us. Pastoral envy is miserable to the soul and hinders faithfulness in using one’s own gifts.
3. Discontentment with Your Ministry Opportunities
You watch friends from seminary have “exciting” ministry opportunities such as speaking, traveling, and writing. Maybe they are speaking at conferences and yet you are not getting the invitations. You hear of how the Lord is using them in different ways, and you think, “I don’t have those opportunities.” Instead of rejoicing for them, you become desirous of those opportunities in your own life. Pride creeps in and discontentment takes over. Sometimes we grow so envious of what we don’t have that we miss out enjoying what we do have. Worse, sometimes we are so envious of what God has entrusted to others that we become unfaithful in what God has entrusted to us.
4. Discontentment with Your Health
God sovereignly brings physical limitations into pastors’ lives. Sometimes these are temporary. Sometimes these are permanent. Some pastors don’t need much sleep while other pastors have frail bodies. While we hope for healing and strength, sometimes one can become discontent over the physical limitations that God has allowed. While the desire for better health to be used by the Lord in greater ways is godly, it can slip from godliness to idolatry when the heart does not surrender to the Lord’s benevolent plan. We don’t always understand the ways and workings of God, but God never wastes suffering. When we shake our fists at God in discontentment we reveal that we are more interested in our agenda for His glory than His agenda for His glory. When our agenda takes over, His glory is set aside.
5. Discontentment with Your Life Circumstances
God brings different circumstances into pastors’ lives just like He does with everyone else in the church. Whether relationships, finances, practical living issues, etc., there is a temptation to grow discontent. One can easily begin to think if only these circumstances would change then I could serve God more. What we often fail to realize is that these circumstances are God’s sovereign design in our lives providing a way to serve Him. One of the greatest ways a pastor can minister to his congregation is to model godliness, contentment, and faith through difficult life circumstances.
6. Discontentment with God
Undergirding discontentment is the rejection of the sufficiency of Christ. A content heart is satisfied in Christ. The discontent heart grasps for something else. Sadly there are times when we preach for others to be content in Christ, while our own hearts go looking for other means of satisfaction. When discontentment arises, Christ has been dethroned for the god of self. Such discontentment has lots of different manifestations, but at the root of all of them is the rejection of Christ. As pastors we need the same reminder our people do. Christ is enough. May the Lord guard our hearts against discontentment as we joyfully find our satisfaction in Him!
Justin McKitterick is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.