From Brother Joe, veteran shepherd of six pastorates, to Brother Timothy as he begins what we trust will be a long and fruit ministry of leading churches.
I hear you’re having a tough time of it.
Good. Glad to hear it.
As I got it, a group in the church doesn’t care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don’t like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don’t wear one).
What makes their opposition ominous is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.
Unity is always better than division.
You came close to resigning, I was told. You probably felt, “If I don’t have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I’ll not be able to do anything here.”
Perhaps you wrote out a resignation to see what it would feel like.
It felt wrong. You knew you were displeasing the wrong One, the Father who sent you there in the first place.
So, you chose to hang in there and try to give leadership to a church that is not sure it wants any.
Welcome to the ministry.
Scripture says, “It is good for a young man to bear the burden in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). Whatever else that means, it seems to be saying, “You might as well learn early on what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
I saw this sign in front of a church: “Hang out with Jesus; He hung out for you.”
You have chosen to “hang in there with Jesus.”
In some respects–not in major, literal ways, but somewhat–it feels like a cross where you are suspended.
Hang in there.
Now, young pastor, the situation you find yourself in can do one of two things to your ministry (actually, it’s His ministry; He has just called you to work in His field for a short time):
–It can destroy you and end any further usefulness you have to the Kingdom.
–It can be the best thing that ever happened to your ministry.
Everything depends on what you do with this opposition and harassment.
First, let’s consider those people who do not like your style, who don’t care for your preaching, and who wish you would do them a favor and leave. If you let them, they will rob you of your joy, steal any pleasure you have in serving the Lord, and undermine any future you have in this work.
If you are normal–and I’m betting you are–you were already wondering if you could do this in the first place. Preaching is hard work, coming up with something biblical, nourishing, and interesting to preach is tough, and then doing it before harsh critics makes it doubly difficult. So, you begin to have thoughts like, “Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should have gone into some other work. I’m not cut out for this.”
Stop this foolishness.
That’s enemy talk. He loves to discourage a good field-hand for Jesus. And no wonder. If he can stop you from working and send you to the bunkhouse, he has won a rare victory over the Lord.
You ask, “But if I can’t lead this little congregation, how in the world can I expect to pastor a larger church?”
Answer: one has nothing to do with the other.
There are plenty of small congregations no pastor on earth can lead successfully.
Timothy, I can take you to ministers who were run off from their first church, but did outstanding work in their next churches. The first was the hardest.
I’ll be greatly disappointed if I get word you are hanging your head in the pulpit, muting the message, and tempering the call for men and women to obey the Lord.
If you let the fear of these people and the hunger for their approval drive what you do in the Lord’s work, you’ll soon be out of work and it will be a good thing.
God doesn’t want His preachers to cringe in the face of opposition or discouragement. Nor does He want you craving the approval of the leadership. Jesus told the first disciples, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). What could be clearer than that?
Opposition is not par for the course, my friend. It is the course.
God uses it in your life. The abrasion will scrub away the barnacles picked up from too much time immersed in this world’s ways. “It is good that I was afflicted,” the psalmist said, “that I might learn thy ways” (Ps. 119:71).
Stand up straight, look them in the eye, smile the smile of the saved and the knowing, and speak out the word Christ has given you as though you were had just been voted most-effective-preacher-of-the-year by the Heavenly Panel itself!
We said one of two things could happen to your ministry as a result of the tightrope you are now walking: you can grow discouraged and quit. Or, it can be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Those critics are doing you a big favor, whether they mean to or not. (Let’s not automatically attribute satanic motives to them. Many of them doubtless mean well, but have never been taught how to relate to the shepherd the Lord sends their way.)
I can think of five lessons you are learning at the hands of these critics:
1) You must not get your affirmation from the people in the pew. Jesus said, “I do always do the things that please the Father” (John 8:29). That’s the plan. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Do I seek to please men? If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
2) You must look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. (That’s Hebrews 12:2.) The best prayer you will ever pray is also the simplest: “Father, what will you have me to do?” (And that is Acts 22:10.) Sing with me: “Have thine own way, Lord….”
3) You will be a man of deep, intense prayer or you will not make it. Since prayer is need-driven and faith-powered, your love for the Lord and your concern for the opposition must drive you to your knees to seek the Lord’s will, His presence, His victory. If it doesn’t, get your resignation ready. “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they should pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Pray or lose heart and quit; those are every pastor’s choices.
4) When all is said and done, the only accolades you long to hear are those from the Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant….” (Matthew 25:21.23)
5) Congregations must be taught about the care and support of their preachers. In many respects, church leadership is the most difficult job on earth. We must never go into this work expecting to be universally loved and appreciated. Even worse, that should never be what led us into the ministry in the first place!
God’s people have to be taught. Some, sad to say, have been taught otherwise.
Young pastor, I do not know everything about the Lord’s will or His churches. But I have observed a few things over many years in the ministry.
1) You will not stay at this church the rest of your ministry. God has an expiration date for your work there. So, knowing it’s for a short time, give Him your all and your best.
2) The next church will be different. A friend of mine went to a new church and wrote a letter back to his former congregation: “We have the same people here; they just have different names.” There’s something to that, that all churches are alike in many ways. But they are also vastly different. Each congregation is like your children–each resembling the other, but complete individuals with their own personalities.
3) The lessons learned in this church will make you a better pastor and stronger preacher for the next. At the end of each pastorate, I suggest you open a file and write as much as you can on “lessons I have learned in this pastorate.” Review it from time to time, and add to it. (Eventually, it would make a great book.)
4) You will have some great joys and some hard times in every church you ever pastor. It goes with the territory.
John F. Kennedy used to say the presidency would be a great job if it weren’t for the Russians.
Every president before and since could complete that sentence in his own way.
Lyndon Johnson, who followed Kennedy, would have said the presidency was a great job if it had not been for the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon would have said the problem was the same war. For Gerald Ford, it was the economy. For Jimmy Carter, it was “the malaise” in the country. For Ronald Reagan, it was the Russians and the economy. For George Bush, it was Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton said it was “the economy, stupid.” For George W. Bush it was terrorism. For Barack Obama, the Middle East and health care. For Donald Trump, it was–well, a lot of things.
It’s always something.
It’ll be that way with every church you serve. Some will offer more joys than headaches, but the spiritual migraines are part of the picture.
If this was easy, the Lord would not have to “call” people to do it. He would erect a divine employment agency in a strip shopping mall and have to turn applicants away.
It helps me to remember the way the Lord called young Jeremiah into this work.
First, He said, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
He explained that Jeremiah was to preach to “the kings of Judah, to the princes, to its priests and to the people of the land.”
“Everywhere I send you, you will go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.”
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? You get to be a pastor to prominent people, be seen on television by the masses. This could be all right.
But wait. The Lord wasn’t through.
Secondly, He said, “I’m sending judgment on this nation. These people have forsaken me and are worshiping gods they have made with their own hands. And I’ve had it up to here.”
Uh oh. This sounds bad.
It was. “They will fight against you.”
Thirdly, God has a command: “Do not be afraid of them.”
Easy for you to say, Lord.
God gave Jeremiah two powerful incentives not to fear his critics: “I will be with you to deliver you” and “if you get stage fright, I will humiliate you before these people.” A promise and a warning.
Fourthly, He gives one more promise. “Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city, and as a pillar of iron, and as walls of bronze against the whole land.”
Do you know what happens when a rotten tomato is thrown at a bronze wall? Nothing. Because nothing will stick to a bronze wall.
They will fight you, God says, “but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you.” (All of this is the first chapter of Jeremiah.)
That’s what you have gotten yourself into, young pastor. You are following in a noble tradition.
You’re growing up fast.
Lose the perfectionism. Lose the fantasy of being acclaimed the most popular man in town. And, more than anything else, lose the fear of rejection from people who don’t have a clue that they will some day stand before the Lord and give account for their treatment of His minister. (See Hebrews 13:17)
“Let no man despise thy youth,” Paul wrote to his young pastor friend (First Timothy 4:12).
Later, Paul would add, “For God has not given us the spirit of timidity, but of power and love and a sound mind” (Second Timothy 1:7).
And again, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (Second Timothy 2:1).
God bless you, friend. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! Believe it.