“Why are you surprised that things are so hard?”
I heard these words from a prophet some years ago. Well, she was an African national in exile after losing her husband who cleaned our church. A prayer warrior, she came to me in my office and looked puzzled and asked my permission to speak those words to me. She said that in prayer God had revealed that message for me.
Little did she actually know the pain and anguish of the moment that would lead to staff exits, conflict and the unseating of a founding pastor. It was hard. Ministry is hard. And, God was saying to me through this woman what simply is in a lot of Bible verses. So, yeah, I tested the “spirits” and found her words to be valid to me. (See 1 Peter 2:21-25.)
One translation of 1 Peter 2:21 says that our “vocation” is to suffer with Christ. Our job while on earth is to partake in this. But, this is not some cruel joke. We are meant to be delved into the mission to reach the world. If we suffer on the grounds of being partakers in the mission of the gospel then we are blessed beyond measure. So, being hard is expected.
What was I missing our church janitor lovingly smacked me with? Of course, this thing is hard, dummy! Why would it not be? Why would I expect an easy path in following Christ and in being a leader in the local church? How could a get-out-of-jail-free card be available to a young man who committed his life to follow Christ and serve the church?
So, the question was rhetorical and instructional. It comforted me, actually. God spoke into my heart about how there was nothing wrong with me just because things around me and even in me were painfully difficult every step of the way. I could not compare the fantasy of a mountain top to the “vocation” of suffering with Jesus. Really, the latter is the place of rest and blessing–the place of life and my real entitlement.
What happens to us sometimes is that we get an oasis of amazing success or ease on a particular year or even season of ministry and we think that all of it will be like that. What I am learning is that those times should be enjoyed and celebrated but that the reality of an uphill climb describes ministry leadership.
Also, if we compare to the buzz of the hip church and read all the success stories our experience we risk perspective. Ministry envy can kill your passion. It can keep you out of seeing the long haul and the beauty of your unique call as a leader in the church. Here are some things that I hope to remember as a leader:
- There’s a fine line between inspiration and unhealthy discontent when reading about the cool and hip and successful ministry and celebrity ministers.
- Suffering is my “vocation”, my job as a follower of Christ
- Being a leader means that I get to perhaps share some uniquely painful steps with Christ
- Pain, hurt, and suffering are a given and not a sign of punishment but of blessing if done in service to Christ and the gospel.
- I need to measure the hurt in ministry against the mission, not the moment
- My only entitlement is Jesus, and that should be enough.
What things have you learned about dealing with the hard spots in ministry have you experienced?