As I talk with people and hear their stories, there is something that many have in common; as people have grown in their faith and served their church communities, many have been rejected, criticized or burned by Christian leaders. Some have experienced ministers that were proud, some leaders have a violent temper and some leaders have gone to bed with someone else’s spouse. I, too, have been wounded by those in ministry. I experienced control and manipulation, I was pushed to my emotional limits and received immense pressure to perform ‘perfectly’.
I’m not sharing this with you to be negative or to give permission to criticize the Church, but in the midst of my pain, I experienced hope.
I think in many ways, ministry has become an industry where ‘success’ is judged. We are obsessed with growing our churches, blogs or social media following. As Christians, we have focused on advancing our groups, gaining influence and becoming recognized as a great leader. But sadly, this means we have lost sight of what ministry is supposed to do… serve God and serve others.
Jesus never taught His disciples a 10-point plan to build their ministries. He never instructed them to work until they dropped. He never said, “Hold it all together because there are people in your church depending on you and you can’t afford to put one foot wrong”. He never said, “Grow your group by 10% each year.”
Instead, He spoke of loving God and loving the people around you (Matthew 22:37-39), He included those who were looked down on (Mark 2:13-17, John 4:1-26) and He showed us that we are to grieve with those who are grieving (John 11:35).
He simply loved and put people first - not a plan, or an agenda, but people. Before the words of 1 Corinthians 13 were ever penned, He showed that prophecies will cease and knowledge will pass away, but love never fails.
We see this when Jesus told the story of the prodigal son. We are familiar with the story; a son foolishly takes his inheritance early, leaves home, totally screws up and loses everything and then comes home with his tail very much between his legs. But the father never scolded him. The father never said, “I am done with you! You have failed this family business and you are now labeled a screw-up.” No. As soon as the father saw his son returning home, he “saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 20:15)
The father simply loved his son. The father didn’t pressure or abuse his son. He forgave and received his son. He loved him.
And like the father in this story, God the Father loves us and puts our hearts first. He doesn’t focus on our weaknesses and he certainly never pressures us to fulfil an agenda, hit a quota or succeed in ‘ministry’.
If you are a church leader, it’s time to put away your expectations, plans and job descriptions, and remind yourself that life is about PEOPLE. Your reputation, social media followings or church sizes will take care of themselves, but it all begins and ends with loving people.
And if you have been hurt by ministry, if you have been broken by leaders you thought you could trust, I am sorry. I know this pain and I know how hard it can be to find the Father’s love when you feel so rejected. But it’s time to forgive and see these people as they truly are. Most of these leaders are broken people who have not experienced the unconditional love of the Father. They are people who need to know they are accepted and they belong, whether they fail or succeed. They are driven by their insecurities and they need healing. And there are some ministers who were never trained to lead. They may know the love of the Father, but they were given responsibility without the tools to manage or take care of people. These leaders have tried their best but have ended up hurting and breaking people.
We are a family. We are fathered by the Father and we are in community with one another. This is what matters. Everything else will pass away; our riches, skills and achievements, but love never fails.
So, forgive the past and get into community! Grab a glass of wine with a friend and hear what’s going on in their life. Find the struggling mum and take over a dinner so she doesn’t have to cook that night. Treat your spouse to something they love. Call your friend and tell them you are thinking of them.
Let the hurt and disappointment go and love your God, your family and your friends (Mark 12:30-31).