Wednesday’s blog post was the first of a two-part post about the pain we can experience in ministry. Usually this pain comes from people – people we love and care for. It takes many forms, varies in severity, but pain is still pain.
I was going to hold this until Friday, but out of a readership of just several dozen, five pastors wrote to say they were leaving ministry. I’m kidding but I felt that it was wrong to open a wound and not try to help heal it. So this is what I would have posted on Friday (tomorrow).
In this second part of the blog post I want to suggest some ways in which we can deal with the pain. I’d like to acknowledge that there aren’t any magic answers, and as I said in Wednesday’s post and in a previous post, sometimes our hurts linger. It’s not that we’re wallowing in our own misery, but words and actions can cut deeply.
I’ve talked with several ministry friends over the years about this subject, and while none of us would say we’ve responded perfectly every time we’ve been hurt, I think we would agree that there are ways in which we can deal with our pain without being immobilized. So let me offer some suggestions.
When you are hurt, don’t be surprised.
You will not please everyone. Get used to that quickly. People will have expectations about what you should do, how you should dress, what you should preach on, what issues you should champion, etc., etc. And when you don’t fulfill everyone’s expectations, there will be times when people say or do things that are very hurtful.
I was thinking about the number of leaders in the biblical story who dealt with people-grief. The Israelites made Moses crazy. David had serious opposition. Then, think of the different people and churches who made Paul’s life difficult. I will not pull a “at least you don’t have it as bad as so-and-so” on you, but take heart that when you’re hurt, you’re in good company. So don’t be surprised.
Be willing to examine the criticism.
Oh, is this hard to do! And especially if it comes wrapped in an angry package. But maybe there’s some truth in what that person said to you. Maybe someone has a legitimate gripe. Maybe there’s a side of an issue that you never considered and need to understand.
We’re near the end of what we termed the “worship wars.” I sense that churches have more or less settled into doing what they’re going to do. But I wonder if so much of the hurt over music style could have been avoided if we listened to older people who were losing songs that meant much to them.
To be fair, some songs in our hymnals needed to be set aside, but if we’re honest, some praise songs we were singing 15 to 20 years ago were just as objectionable as the shallow “gospel songs” they were replacing. Maybe the transition would have gone over better if we had listened and tried to understand.
When you are hurt, find one or two trusted companions to dump on.
Yeah, I mean dump on. Guys who are so closed-mouthed that you can pour your heart out and know that it will not be repeated. Guys who will help you gain a different perspective if a different perspective is needed. Guys who understand why you’re grieving and will give you the room to grieve without being critical that you don’t seem to have that “joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart.”
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is found in 1 Samuel 23:15-18. David is on the run from Saul, who wants him killed. Jonathan, the rightful heir to the throne, finds David and “strengthened his hand in God” (v.17, ESV).
Do you have a Jonathan or two in your life? If not, ask God to provide one or two for you. (And to you guys reading this who have been my Jonathans—you know who you are—thank you!!)
When I first began writing in June, I wrote an article called “Companions for the Journey.” It talks about the need for having friends in ministry with whom we can walk together, helping each other when times are hard, and rejoicing together when times are good. It might be helpful to read that if you haven’t already.
Depending on the severity of the criticism and/or the level of disruption it brings, involve your elders.
You don’t want a reputation as a person who can’t be approached with a difference of opinion. But if a person becomes a troublemaker, you have a spiritual responsibility to deal with him or her before it taints the whole flock. Read Titus 3:9-11.
Seek out an older pastor and learn from his wisdom.
This assumes that you are on the younger side, though I’m finding people from all levels of experience are visiting this blog. But as a younger pastor, ask God to lead you to a veteran pastor who can talk some of this through with you.
Obviously, this needs to be a person able to keep confidences. Perhaps it is a pastor from a church in which you served previously. Maybe you can call a professor from Bible College or Seminary. Maybe it’s the Senior Pastor in your own church. Hey, shoot me an email if you have no one you can talk to. As I’ve said before, I don’t know everything, but I will try to be helpful. And what you write won’t appear in this blog.
Allow yourself to hurt and bring it to Jesus.
Don’t dress in sackcloth and ashes. Don’t act like walking death around the church and in the office. But don’t deny your hurt and don’t pretend that you are impervious to pain. Acknowledge it. Pray about it. Ask God for healing, and immerse yourself in the Psalms where David, often through his own pain, both calls out to God and finds strength from God. Look at Psalms 27, 31, 34, 42, 43, 46, 55, 56, 59. Read one of these a day. Read them all each day. Keep reading them and keep praying them back to God.
It is hard to minister when we’ve been bruised and treated poorly, when we wonder how many people “out there” feel the same way as the author of the anonymous letter a cowardly church member or attender sent you. But we continue to do what God has called us to do, trusting him to get us through, even when we feel we cannot.
Will the hurt go away? That’s a hard question to answer.
Some hurts pass by and others last longer. So I am not trying to give you a 6-Step Plan for Inner Peace. But God is merciful, and during our pain, discouragement, and disappointment he ministers to us through his Word and Spirit, and through others he sends our way.