Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
O descendants of Abraham his servant,
O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.
He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
Psalms 105:4-7 NIV
Malaise is that feeling of being unwell. It’s used regularly by medical providers. It is marked by a lack of energy or most often described as “I just don’t feel right.” Professor Andrew Root in his book “The Pastor in a Secular Age” describes this vocational crisis where faithful and fruitful pastors begin to feel this state of malaise. He states that malaise “revolves around the loss of a theological vision for divine action that impacts pastoral practice.” In other words, when pastors no longer have holy expectations of the power and presence of the divine, they become “guardians and custodians of declining religion” or “religious entrepreneurs connecting busy, disinterested people with the programs and products of a church.”
If we are all honest, we have all been tempted to go down the road of justifying our ministry disappointments through lowering our expectations. It’s easy to accept that your church has not experienced new life, healings, liberating events, restored relationships or that the church you lead is not practicing radical hospitality and generosity that transforms entire communities. In fact, I know pastoral generations of malaise. Their expectation of church is managing the expectations of their congregations to worship a small Jesus, who has limited desire and authority.
No one starts off this way but often finds it easier to ease the pain of ministry disappointment through managing expectations.
Back to Andrew Root, who would describe authentic ministry, not in terms of religious duty or congregational expectations, but as “the very event that unveils God’s actions in the world.” This revelation of the activity of God begins with the Pastor experiencing the presence and power of God and being a conduit, reflector, and detector of God’s activity in and through the congregation. It is the Pastor’s role to open the eyes of congregation to the manifold presence of God in the ordinary and the extraordinary. This revelation of the persistent and profound presence of God is the cure for pastoral malaise. It energizes, focuses, directs, revitalizes with awe and wonder, and restores hope and the Holy expectation that is in line with the promises of authoritative scripture. It does not accept a faith that leads to live a life of “quiet desperation”. Henry Thoreau would correctly state that “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation”.
Pastoral malaise is a symptom that you are desperate to have an encounter with God. If the pastor is experiencing malaise, often the congregation is as well and are equally desperate for expressions of God’s glory. The psalmist called this “Seeking His Face”. The Psalmist is seeking an intimate encounter with God. Often in our hustle and bustle, we seek everything but God’s face. We seek God’s pockets for resources, God’s feet to take us places, God’s mighty hand to remove our obstacles. Rarely are we seeking a deep experience that shatters our justification for disappointments, disillusionment and disenchantments. We think we can read something, pray something, or practice a ritual that is akin to rubbing the bottle to get a genie who will do our bidding. This approach treats Jesus like an idol to be manipulated instead of a savior to be worshipped.
However, malaise is removed when we seek the face of God and experience the presence and power of God, through encountering Jesus and the ongoing fellowship of the Holy Spirit. I pray that if you are experiencing pastoral malaise, that you begin to seek the face of God and that you allow God to expand the vision and deepen the congregation’s sense of Holy expectation.
God can do anything, you know — far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
Ephesians 3:20-21 (MSG)