Pastors hurt because God wants us to become more like Christ
“If the world hates you,” Jesus told His disciples, “keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20). If we aren’t careful, the world can get into the church and attack us through leaders who seem to have good testimonies. Peter must have pained Jesus deeply when he told him not to go to the cross, and Jesus called him “Satan” (adversary) and told him he was thinking the world’s thoughts and not God’s thoughts (Matt. 16:21-28). During my sixty plus years of ministry, I have personally experienced and seen others experience the devil’s attacks through mean members and obstinate officers.
But keep this in mind: when the world and worldly Christians attack you, they are treating you the way sinners treated Jesus, and this is a compliment! Paul called this “participation in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). We have been promoted! After all, God’s purpose for all of His people was that we might “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Sometimes the Father has to prune us for our own good (John 15:1-4), but He is never nearer to us than when He is cutting away the things that are hindering our fruit-bearing.
There is in every church at least one person who is like sandpaper and whose “ministry” is to criticize the pastor and in the name of the Lord make his life miserable. Yes, the elders may have to deal with such people biblically, but let’s admit that God might use their abrasiveness to remove some of the faults from our own lives and polish us for greater service. “Another poor sermon!” a church member snarled at a pastor friend of mine as the man left church each Sunday morning. My friend, now in glory, simply smiled and said, “The Lord bless you!” and prayed for him. When the weekly fault-finder ended up in critical condition in the hospital, my pastor friend visited him faithfully, and one day the man broke down, apologized for his meanness and asked God and my friend to forgive him.
At least twice, Jesus told his disciples, “Servants are not greater than their master” (John 13:16; 15:20). Do we really believe that statement? Our Lord’s preparation for His priestly ministry in heaven included far more than “sandpapering.” He was lied about, laughed at and ridiculed by religious people who should have known better; but He was also illegally arrested, brutally whipped and shamefully crucified. There are places in our world today where faithful servants of God are experiencing similar sufferings and are even being slain; but for the most part, we in the Western world are spared. However, the fiery tongue that James wrote about (3:3-6) still burns, spreads and destroys.
So what does the pastor do?
To begin with, when it comes to pain in the pastorate, expect it. Your first year in a church may be a honeymoon, but don’t be surprised if the honey is one day replaced with a bitter cup of suffering. As Peter wrote to the saints in the first century, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). To ask God, “Why me?” may bring His response, “Why not you? Are you better than Moses or David or Jeremiah or Paul or My Son?” It isn’t necessarily a question of deserving or not deserving; it’s a question of our needing polishing and perfecting. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Godliness invites persecution and if we practice James 1:2-7, trials can result in even more godliness.
Accept it is the second order of the day, but “not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7), for, after all, every cup of suffering is personally and lovingly mixed by the Father. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11) A very dedicated Christian leader who had experienced a great deal of suffering and sorrow said one day, “My Father loves me too much to harm me, and He is too wise to make a mistake.” For us to try to run away from ministry trials is to ask for more trials. Remember Jonah?
Our third step ought to be to examine the matter honestly. Perhaps we unwittingly said or did something that offended others, and they have just as much right to feel pain as we do. The local church is a family of faith, and there are misunderstandings even in the most devoted and disciplined families. On more than one occasion I have had to apologize to congregations publicly and to individuals privately, including staff members. Let’s examine our own hearts to make sure we aren’t afraid, angry, making excuses or running away from responsibility.
Step four will take much faith: enlist this experience to work for the glory of God and the good of the pastor and people. If we sincerely believe Romans 8:28, then we should have the confidence that there is a divine purpose behind even the most painful misunderstandings or family conflicts. We may have times when we feel that God has forsaken us, but we know better and cling to the assurances written in Psalm 23:4 and Hebrews 13:5, 6. Joshua blundered when he ran ahead of the Lord and attacked Ai and also when he made a covenant with the Gibeonites, but the Lord enabled him to use both of these mistakes for Israel’s good (Joshua 8, 9). God’s grace means that we can make our mistakes work for us!
Finally, take the long view by faith. God doesn’t always settle everything immediately and it takes time for heartaches to heal. Don’t put your personal pastoral pains on center stage where they can take control of your life. Keep them in the wings, but don’t try to deny them or pretend they don’t exist. Talk them over with a close friend or family member and pray together. Sharing burdens halves them; sharing joys doubles them.
Over the long haul, pastoral pains have helped me discover deeper divine resources and to develop a more sensitive heart toward others. Jesus is still able to “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18, 19), and matters that haven’t been completely settled here on earth will be finally settled in heaven when we see His church “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).
Whatever we do, we must not allow the enemy to accuse us and then convince us that we ought to leave town or even abandon the ministry. Let’s keep going so that one day we’ll be able to say to the Father, as did Jesus, “I have brought glory to you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
It’s always too soon to quit.
© Warren Wiersbe
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).