By Rick Warren

If you want to last in ministry, you need to learn how to deal with disappointment.

The very nature of ministry makes you highly vulnerable to disappointment. Every leader must learn how to deal with the tension between the ideal and the real. No matter how effective your church is, it’s never quite where you want it to be. You will always want it to be better and stronger.

Moses knew all about disappointments in ministry. No man put up with more complaining or lack of appreciation. Over and over the Israelites questioned his motives, doubted his decisions, and challenged his leadership.

A good example of this is found in Exodus 15. After Moses led them through the Red Sea, the Israelites traveled three days through the desert without finding water. “When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. . . . So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Exodus 15:23-24 NIV).

Moses’ story points to an important lesson: Great successes in ministry are often followed by failure. After every mountaintop comes a valley. If you’re experiencing a big success in your ministry, you’re often being set up for a Marah.

What’s the Marah in your ministry? It is anything distasteful, uncomfortable, or upsetting to you—and it typically comes from one of three sources:

  • Disappointment with things

  • Disappointment with circumstances

  • Disappointment with people

Why does God lead you to Marahs? Exodus 15:25 says, “There the Lord made a decree . . . and there he tested them” (NIV). God allows these moments in your life to test you. He uses disappointing circumstances and people to check your reaction. He wants to know: “Do you really trust me?”

Our character is not tested in the spectacular successes. Our character is tested in the daily irritations. The difference between the Red Sea and the experience at Marah is that God’s character was revealed at the Red Sea, but man’s character was revealed at Marah.

Disappointment says a lot about us. It tells us about what’s inside of us and what our motivations are. Israel responded by complaining, grumbling, and criticizing their leader. Disappointments always reveal more about us than they do about the circumstance.

The good news is, God won’t leave you alone in your ministry failures and disappointments. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV). It’s a verse to hold on to when you feel broken and crushed after experiencing great success.

So, pastor, how do you deal with disappointment in ministry? You “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord(Exodus 15:26 NIV) and use that time to trust in God like never before.

The article first appeared on pastors.com