by Thomas F. Fischer
What Happened To Passion?
You feel youve given the ministry all youve got. Now, after further
reflection, you are resigned to carry on in "same ol, same ol" mode.
What happened to the passion? What happened to the unquenchable fire, the burning
drive, the exuberant energies?
No, people around you may or may not have noticed. Pastors, of all professions, are
keenly aware of perceptions and facades. You dont want to let out the "big
secret." But your passion "just aint there no more."
Where Passion Went
There are numerous reasons for a loss of passion.
1. Tenure: After a number of years, even decades, in the same ministry one can become
"bored." If a ministry cannot bring forth new challenges or if the pastor cannot
energize new challenges for a congregation, the tasks may become even less energizing.
2. Habituation: Activities which at inception were passionately energizing, have became
routinized. They are habits. Having been effectively assimilated into the life and
ministry of the congregation, the things that have given explosive fire have been reduced
to a steady simmer.
3. Fear: A passionate ministry is an exciting ministry. But it is also a risky
ministry. To minister with passion is to risk fear and failure.
4. Risk: Why burn with passion when everything has gone so well?
Why "rock the boat" and put the result of endless hours of sweat, toil and
tears at risk?
5. Personal Transformation: Theres no doubt about it. The pastoral ministry is a
ministry of transformation. Ironically, the ones most transformed in pastoral ministry are
often not the parishioners but the pastors. One might call it "Gods little
joke" on pastors. Though often related to age and maturity, it is often related to
the often painful transitional crises of life.
6. Pain-Avoidance: Pastors and others who have been through intense congregational
conflict often develop protective mechanisms to endure.
7. Change of Calling: The Holy Spirit givesand takesaway spiritual gifts as
He chooses. Amid rather surprising circumstances or ever so slowly the calling you have
passionately enjoyed begins to transform in ways not suited for your giftedness. Or, on
the other hand, through the same circumstances you might be led to a new horizon of
giftedness in another area of giftedness. This area may be new, cutting-edge, and
unprecedented. Or it may be the resurrection of a gift not fully nurtured and utilized
from adolescence and early adulthood…before you were laden with the expectations of
8. Severe Short-Term Conflict: When conflict occurs, one of the of the greatest
blessings is that it occurs and resolves in a relatively short time span. Short-term,
severe conflict can require dramatic amounts of emotional, physical and spiritual energy
to maintain the ministry. Energy reserves used to maintain the congregation during
conflict may often already be running low as the conflict may have resulted from the
results of enormous amounts of energy and passion in the stretching out and achieving of
the vision. The result is obvious. Youre tired, burned-out, fatigued and feeling a
sense of listlessness and purposelessness.
9. Ongoing Attenuated Conflict: Nothing frustrates like the constant drip of a
nighttime faucet. Its not flowing bad enough to get up and fix it. Yet its
nagging enough to keep you from getting a good nights sleep. When attempts to fix
the leak fail, the frustrating result is "drip, drip, drip." Attenuated ongoing
conflict in a congregation wears out the passion. Fixes dont work. Vision casting
falls on deaf ears. No matter how many things and how many times you try, its like
trying to cut down a tree with the blunt end of an ax.
10. Serial Failure: You went to the seminar, bought the tapes, purchased the materials
and trained the leaders. But time and time again the "magic" programs which were
"guaranteed" to work in your church didnt. Since it was your program,
guess who gets blamed?
Rick Warren once joked about how the ministry team at Saddleback develops new ministry
programs. They begin by just trying sometimes desperatelyto make something
work. When it does, they put it in a neat little package and appear as
"experts." Ricks candidness is healthy. When congregational ministry is
given to God, it is freeing to give God the results.
11. Critical Spirit: Legalistic congregations are marked by their critical spirit. This
spirit enslaves, drains, shackles and extinguishes every idea, energy, and innovation
suggested. It just wont work, they say. Given the critical, unsupportive spirit of
those claiming this, their words are less of a prophecy than a challenge.
What they often really mean is "It wont work…over my dead body. If it
does, it will be your body that will be approaching room temperature!" Either way,
win or lose, the critical spirit will work on your passion. It will almost undoubtedly try
12. Avoidance of Accountability: Having too much freedom without accountability can
contribute to ones lack of focus. Certainly this is not to advocate a heavy sense of
accountability without joy, freedom and generous affirmation. But a little nudge is not a
bad thing for the church or for us. It keeps us focused on our main objective.
13. Leadership Vacuum: No matter what the size, church leadership is always an
important issue. Permeating organizational passion comes from multiple leaders in concert
with the same sense of vision, determination and commitment. The more leaders displaying
these characteristics, the more passion overtakes the organization.
One of the most inexplicable phenomenons of ministry is how God allows drastic
leadership changes, usually involving the best leaders. As a further frustration, these
drastic leadership transitions occur just on the brink of major implementation of a
cutting edge initiative. Several other things occur concurrently.
1) First, there may not be a deep enough "bench" of leaders to sustain the
building momentum; 2) Second, the absence of leaders may result in an absence of at-hand
support to defend the pastor from an extreme vulnerability to antagonists. If change
energizes antagonists and conflict, the greatest energy of conflict will be on the eve of
implementation of the new.
14. Lowered Change Tolerance Capacity: After experiencing the pain of change and
conflict, its tempting for some to adopt a "Been there, done that!" or
"I wont do that again!" attitude. Change can create a sense of bitterness.
The price exacted may have been extraordinarily high, much higher than expected. However,
"once burned, twice shy" applies in many cases of pastoral leadership. The
roller coaster may have been too much of a ride. From now on, the pastor may resolve,
Im taking the merry-go-round. That way I can just go safely in circles, year after
year, in a predictable and no-risk way.
15. Ongoing Attacks: The constant, day-to-day opposition does get under ones
skin. One can only go so long without going through the cycle of frustration, anger,
criticism, trying to reconcile, mediating, compromising, being taken for granted and used,
getting frustrated and angry again. It wears away…at passion.
16. Feeling Alone: Like Elijah, our passion is upheld when we are in a team of
like-minded passionate individuals. When were feeling were the only ones left,
however, the strength of one may not appear to be enough to hold oneself up. Proverbs 17:7
says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (NIV)
Two are stronger than one. The presence of a supportive, trusted corps of others on the
team sharpens us. The Hebrew for "sharpen" means to "make more keenly
alert." Thats what teams do. They alert us and given insight relative to our
circumstances, our resources, our attitudes, our opposition, our leadership, our faith,
and ourselves. Without the ongoing sharpening of character, passion can decline. Personal
and family circumstances, loss of key leaders, rejection by esteemed individuals, etc. can
leave one feeling dull and unsharpened, powerless, lonely and without passion.
17. Lack of Receiving Peer Affirmation: When was the last time your denominational
executive, overseer, or area pastors contacted you personally to uplift you? No, Im
not talking about the "syrupy facade" or perfunctory "How are you?"
salutation. Im talking about the genuine stufflike lunch, breakfast, a drink,
a drop-by in the office, or taking time at a conference to inquire about your ministry and
express genuine spiritual concern.
An occasional email with a joke, or a "hey, did you hear about…" type of
casual exchange can be a significant affirmation. Typically communication from above may
only occur when they need something. Maybe what we really need is to recognize the greater
need of affirmation and sharpening. This can do wonders to encourage passion, interest and
18. Lack of Giving Reciprocal and Peer Affirmation: It is more blessed to give than to
receive. As we need others support, others need our support. There are many simple
ways (cf. 17 above) to encourage those denominational officials. Due to travels they often
lack the ongoing opportunity to be sharpened by family, friends, or other denominational
Whether one ministers to pastors on a denominational level or as a pastor of a single
congregation, oversight can be a lonely life. Without the constant sharpening of
reciprocated affirmation, all of us can become vulnerable to losing our passion. Like
other leaders, pastors can put on a mask and "fake" passion. But sooner or
later, a noticeable loss of passion will appear. The sword, so long unsharpened, just
doesnt cut like it used to. Pull out your sharpening stone of affirmation and find
some swords to sharpen!
19. Selfishness: When you wont give, sacrifice or are withholding from others or
your church, you will lose passion. Be stingy with your time, talents, resources, and
ministry and youll reap what you sowed.
20. Physiological Imbalance: Ministry passion can decrease with various forms of
physiological imbalance. Endocrine disorders such as those of the thyroid and pituitary
glands can greatly affect attitude, motivation and functioning. Imbalanced cerebral
chemistries left untreated can trigger many a multitude of external imbalances. Eating
habits, weight, general condition of health also play an important part in the loss of
21. Uncertain Vision: If no one really knows what the organization is attempting to do,
there will be little evidence of unified and focused energies. Instead, random and
scattered sparks of passion are all around the organization. They create some momentary
heat, but the sparks are so broadly scattered that a fire of vision-driven passion never
starts. Where there is no unified organizational vision there may be lots of dreams, lots
of hopes, lots of "could be" and "should be"s. But theres
probably only a precious little smoke and virtually no fire. No vision and no fire result
in no passion.
22. Inability To Follow Through: Perhaps nothing is more discouraging than having
people who have committed to a task and been entrusted to carry out the responsibilities
fail to follow through. Successful maintenance of passion requires regular, faithful
follow-through by at least the critical mass of implementation units. If too few follow
through, things just fall flat…including passion. Of all the important reasons for
accountability structures, maintenance of passion is probably one of the most important.
When repeated lack of follow-through proliferates unhindered in an organization,
discouragement and loss of passion are sure to follow.
23. Chronic Shortages And/Or Mismanagement Of Resources: Begging for more help,
grumbling and complaining about what one doesnt have enough of, and making nagging
appeals for more money undermines the development of mission-driven passion. Given the
greatness of the scope and vision of ministry, many organizations are chronically
under-funded, under-manned, and under-powered to achieve. Opportunities for mismanagement
range from trying to do too much to allocating resources to less productive areas of
Struggling to "make do" without adequate resources, things may be done
second-rate, half-baked, and without much passion.
24. Change Of Organizational Direction…Again: The most certain way to threaten morale
of those who minister is to keep changing their role. Take them away from their
giftedness, dont let them get comfortable and accustomed to new roles, keep changing
the staff they work with, and keep the expectations changing. Keep them out of the loop of
the big picture and give them an anxious sense of wondering, "I wonder how
theyll change my calling tomorrow." To ensure loss of passion, be sure to leave
them "out of the loop" and prevent them from expressing any personal input
relative to their preferences.
25. "Trying": "Try" is a negative word. Implicit in the word
"try" is the admission of a real possibility for failure. Though it affirms that
efforts will be made, efforts which are "tried" largely have an expectation of
failure. Studies have shown that those who "try" fail more than those who
"just do it."
Continuing "trying" only leads to more failure and discouragement. Dont
"try" anything. Instead boldly communicate what is going to be done and do it
Passion: A Character Issue
The list of things which can reduce or take away passion is virtually endless. However,
the real reason for loss of passion is not the externalities of ministry described above.
Passion is really an internal issue. It is a spiritual issue which is intimately related
to the strength of Christian character.
Passion based onand driven byexternals is a worldly passion. It is subject
to change, decay, corruption and destruction. It takes us on an emotional roller coaster
ride. It makes us feel happy and excited going up and sad and frightened on the way down.
Overall, the roller coaster ride of externally-based passion can be the most anxious and
extremely exciting experience one just cant wait to put behind them and never wants
to have to go through again.
[Continued in CLM 941 with … A Passion For The Wrong Things]