Pastor, Don’t Waste Your Spiritually Dry Seasons
Every Christian—and every pastor—has spiritually dry seasons. These moments range from mildly annoying to living in a pre-Aslan Narnia where it’s “always winter but never Christmas.” Some pastors are embarrassed by this experience, which further complicates the matter. What follows includes things I have done—or, things I wish I’d done—in response to my own dry seasons. I hope it will edify and encourage you.
1. Invite other voices to speak to you.
This seems like a no-brainer but it may be the most difficult step of them all. Tell someone that you are struggling. Don’t stay silent and save face. This leaves you abandoned, under an ever-increasing sense of loneliness and insecurity.
The impulse to save face is particularly difficult when dealing with those close to you. However, giving into it robs you of the opportunity to lead even as you’re walking openly and honestly through difficulty. It also robs those close to you of the opportunity to love you by carrying you for a while. If I could have one mulligan in ministry (“one” is of course rhetorical, as my ongoing Mooney mulligan list is absolutely daunting!) it would be to entrust myself as weak to those close to me rather than deciding to push through sadness alone. When I didn’t do this, I became cruel, defensive, fearful, and distrusting, all of which I covered with a thin veil of confidence. I devastated at least one relationship that I miss to this day, and I’m sure I wounded others beyond repair.
Finally, saving face turns dry seasons into fertile ground for sin. Think about it. You tell your members that dry seasons are a normal aspect of any relationship, including their relationship with Christ. However, by denying your own dry season, you perceive yourself to be above the norm. And so you become safely insulated by your own facade of abnormally strong spirituality. Your make-believe piety is safe from every external perception. This isn’t safe. It’s not safe from your own flesh and the enemy, who will gladly use it to steadily eat away at your soul.
Brother-pastors, trust me. Saving face is worth none of the hype it promises. Tell someone you’re struggling, and after telling others, let them do what you have equipped them to do—namely, the work of the ministry. Listen to their voices rather than your own.
2. Tell your wife and your other elders.
In a dry season, your voice is perhaps the last one you need to listen to on a regular basis. As I mentioned, you need outside voices from those who love you. In particular, dry-season pastors should share their struggles with their wife and their other elders.
Don’t neglect your wife! Robust complementarianism doesn’t require an approach to your wife as if she cannot handle your weakness. In fact, the opposite should be true. If you don’t believe this, you may need to read a different article. She’s your equal, and at times your spiritual superior. Can you imagine being stranded during a tornado and finding yourself physically incapable of moving yourself to safety? You’d be foolish to refuse her help. She’s there for you, and you both should know one another better than anyone else.
Brother-pastor, share your darkness with your wife. After all, she probably already knows that you’re in a bad spot—and she can probably tell you why, at least in part. She wants to help more than others, and is probably more capable of helping than others. Let her be your guiding voice. Let her direct you back to the core elements that you consistently tell others to pursue.
But she doesn’t need to be the only one you tell. You should also share your struggles with your fellow pastors (if you have them).
On multiple occasions, one of my fellow elders has come to my office to read and pray with me. The Word of God is the primary voice you want to hear during dry times. During these times, he reads a chapter or so to me, and then prays with me and for me. He doesn’t take a long time. The Scriptures do the work. Even a glancing blow from the life-giving Word of God does damage to the dry times. It provides a source of unparalleled encouragement.
The Word of God and the gospel-shaped wisdom of those closest to you offer much help during dry times. But that’s not all.
3. Meditate on the psalms of lament; sing songs of comfort.
Don’t neglect music during dry times—particularly the Bible’s songs or psalms of lament.
One sings a lament to confront reality even when there’s no tangible evidence that you will win the battle. “Why so downcast O my soul? Put your hope in God!” (Ps. 43:5) To sing a lament is to sing of pain and suffering; to cry out about the seeming absence of God.
But laments are certainly not the only type of song to listen to and sing. Any good music that provokes you to dwell on and even feel gospel realities is helpful. Some of my favorites hymns are “Be Still My Soul,” “And Can it Be,” “He Will Hold Me Fast,” and “I Asked the Lord.” I also love Bach’s solo cello pieces, Bill Evans’ “You Must Believe in Spring,” and Chick Corea’s album Alive. Each provokes me toward helpful and fruitful mindsets.
On a related note, dry seasons are horrible times to listen to the wrong music. By wrong music, I simply mean music that will push you away from love for Christ and others by pushing you toward loving yourself more than you should. Due to music’s capacity to throw you back in time, you might begin to focus on opportunities missed; you might be tempted to recollect old lovers, old grudges, old lifestyles, and old habits. Music can take you to old places and recraft old times. It can even manipulate your depraved imagination to turn those seasons into something different than they were. This is not helpful to say the least. While you may listen to all types of music without incident throughout most of life, dry seasons require more discernment.
A Brief Word on Authenticity
I remember a well-meaning brother telling me in an early dry season, “Bro! You gotta fake it ’til you make it!” I still love that guy but that was and is a wrongheaded way to view a dry season. A genuine pursuit of Christ regardless of feelings is not tantamount to disingenuous motives or actions. Dry seasons shouldn’t encourage you to fake affection, but rather to demonstrate genuinely mature affection by pursuing Christ in daily, mundane, and even seemingly fruitless ways. These habits will shape your heart so that when the dryness itself dries up, you will not be the same. By God’s grace, you will be more mature, marked by a steadiness and depth that wasn’t there before.
Brother-pastor, I hope you will not waste your spiritually dry seasons.