Why Young Christian Leaders are Already Experiencing “Dark Nights of the Soul”

Some years ago, I wrote a post entitled,Why Christian Leaders Struggle with ‘Dark Nights of the Soul” that caught some steam. I’m afraid it spoke to many of us who’ve been in ministry for any length of time. These days, I’m beginning to hear from many young leaders who also deal with dark nights—sometimes very early in their ministries. Here’s my sense of why this is happening:

  1. They sometimes enter ministry with fears already enveloping them. They know God has called them to this work, but they’ve seen enough heartache in the church that they’re worried about it. Their concerns often become self-fulfilling prophecies.
  2. Some churches chew them up quickly. I’m always amazed by churches who take the life of a rookie minister under their wings and then treat him in rotten ways. Some congregations scar a minister for life.
  3. At times, they make dumb leadership decisions that cost them much, and they come to grieve their choices. They discover their arrogance the hard way, and then they don’t know how to get off the mat again. They just beat themselves up for their youthfulness.
  4. The stresses of ministry bring to light their own insecurities and struggles. What they’ve been able to hide to this point isn’t so easy to ignore under the strains of leading other people. Sometimes, in fact, those struggles first come to light in this role.
  5. They often come from broken homes themselves. They’re trying to be godly leaders in their church and their home, but they’ve never seen godly leadership in the latter arena (or even in the former one in some cases). Thus, they usually fail over and over again.
  6. No one has ever modeled for them consistent and deep spiritual disciplines. Consequently, they start ministry in their own ability. And they continue in it until conviction and despair eat at their soul.
  7. They have few older men walking beside them – including other pastors. When they want help and guidance, they don’t know where to turn. Struggles continue. Defeat happens. They fight and lose alone. For that cause, older pastors, you and I will likely be accountable.

What other causes have you found? 


  • Don Johnson says:

    Chuck, I really like and affirm your insights here. But your last comment took me aback a little in that it assumes all mature leaders are men. What about women in ministry and the wise older women who can mentor and support them?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Fair point, Don. I definitely affirm the need, responsibility, and potential for older women to walk beside younger women in various ministry roles.

  • John W Carlton says:

    As a young minister at age 24, I accepted my first church. I was called as Minister of Music & Youth. What I didn’t realize was this, they wanted more concentration on the Youth that they did on the Music. All of my training was in the Music field so I had to learn by the seat of my pants. I only lasted 2 years there before I was chewed up and spit out. I was fortunate to find another congregation to serve even though I was serving in the same type capacity. The 2nd church had not had a full time staff member and so they didn’t quite know what they wanted. The pastor and I got along better than the pastor at the 1st church, and I learned a lot from my mistakes. Again it was a short tenure of 19 months. From there I went to my 3rd church. In this church I stayed for 19 years and had a very sweet ministry–so sweet that as I am retired now, this is where our membership is, and I a \m serving on the deacon body

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