By: Mark Etheridge
During my relatively short tenure in ministry, I can honestly say that it is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done while on this earth. God called me to ministry when I was in high school, and to be honest, I was scared to death. I never seriously considered doing something like this with my life, plus I felt totally inadequate. I know my story is not unique, based upon the testimony of others I’ve had the privilege of meeting over the years. I have to say it’s truly a gift of grace to serve Jesus, and commit our lives to something so meaningful.
Yet, just because God has called men and women into vocational ministry does not mean the road will be easy. Success is not guaranteed just because you work hard. Everyone will not like you, even if you’re trying to do the right thing. As I’m sure you already know, there are times where you will be gossiped about, misrepresented, betrayed, or perhaps even fired when you didn’t deserve to be. Wounds develop, relationships are broken, meetings are called, angry emails are sent, and before you know it, you find yourself in a lot more conflict than you’d ever imagined. But what is the best reaction to these types of situations? All of us will be hurt in ministry at some point, so here are a few things to remember for when those experiences do cross our paths.
- Seek to reconcile broken relationships. This is both the most visible and hurtful part of ministry pain. Especially when it’s people that you were closest to are now the ones who oppose you. Whether you were in the wrong or they were, the principle is the same: seek to reconcile the relationship. As a church leader, it’s crucial that we lead by example is this area by taking the initiative, and expressing both our faults and our desire to reconcile and move forward. I would say this is also important even if you have moved on from the ministry and may never see the people again. This is still a crucial step both for you and for them to heal, and it allows for both of you to move forward without anger or resentment.
- Extend forgiveness to those who hurt you. When we are hurt, the natural response of our hearts is revenge. We want people to feel the hurt they have made us feel. Usually, it’s not so clearly defined, at least it’s not that way for me. What I means is when I know I need to forgive someone, I experience waves of emotions pulling me different directions. One afternoon, I can tell a friend that I have forgiven my offender, and wish the best for them. Yet the same night I can be lying in bed, infuriated at what they did to me, as I think how I can retaliate. Forgiveness isn’t easy no matter who you are. It’s also not a one-time decision, but a process. It’s a process of continual decisions to renounce the wrongs of another culminating in a heart posture of forgiveness. Don’t hold it in, let it go, and experience the freedom.
- If you have to leave, do so quietly. Unfortunately, there are times when ministry conflict runs so deep that you may have to leave your current place of service. Even if you’ve tried to make things right, it appears there appears to be now answer to the problems that have ensued. In these situations, some are asked to leave, while others may even be terminated. This is a harsh reality, but it is a reality. These are heartbreaking circumstances, yet its crucial to respond appropriately and in a way that would most honor Jesus. My advice in a situation like this would be to leave quietly. If you choose to respond in a way that is vengeful or vindictive, it could cause a lot of damage for the people in your church. Some will likely side with you, while others will side against you. Even if you are right, this can quickly stir up controversy within the church body, and lead to more damage than you even hoped it would in your vengeful state. Plus, you will walk away in the coming days and only experience the regret of how you should’ve handled the situation. Sure, you were probably treated wrong, but just because you were treated wrong doesn’t give you an excuse to stop doing what is right. Thank your people for letting you serve them, let them know you will always care about them, and leave.
- Above all, promote Christ’s reputation, and don’t worry about your own. One of the biggest fears ministers face in these types of situations would have to be, “What about my reputation? What will people think of me? Who knows what rumors about me will get started!” With this, we feel it’s necessary to protect our own reputation from being criticized and maligned. Yet, the gospel provides both the objective truth and the subjective comfort we need not to worry about our own reputation. By this, I mean that Christ is what’s called our paraclete. This word means Jesus is our Comforter, but it also means that He is our Advocate. Not only does Jesus provide peace during conflict, but also He pleads our case for righteousness on behalf of God Himself. The reality is that we have right standing before God, and no one can take that away! Therefore, we don’t have to consumed with worry about what others may say. Instead, we can strive promote the name of Christ through our pain, so that our painful circumstance will be a testimony to His faithfulness and grace. Think about it like this: The way you leave your church may be the last “sermon” your people ever hear from you. Will it align with all the others you preached to them? Make His name your prime concern, not your own.
I do hope and pray this will be helpful to pastors and church leaders who may be going through a hurtful ministry situation, or for those who will encounter one in the future. I have experienced hurtful ministry situations myself, and my prayer is that we will walk through them faithfully when they come our way. Know that God is concerned about the pain you that you feel, and He desires to turn your hurting into healing. Whatever you’ve experienced, God has something for you while you’re there, so don’t miss it! He’s not taking you through any of your pain in vain. He is in you, He is with you, He is working for you, and He is always faithful.
Jn. 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7
I Jn. 2:1
Mark Etheridge is currently serving as the student director of the Summit Church’s new Alamance County Campus. He is also enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in their Master of Divinity program in Christian ministry. Mark is planning to graduate with his MDIV in May of 2016. You can connect with Mark on both Twitter and Facebook.