Friday, March 16, 2012

When I'm Asked...

Early in my ministry, 25 or 30 years ago, I would occasionally be asked by a friend or young person thinking about going into ministry what was the most difficult part of do my job. Back then, it was never very hard to quickly give them a response. I'd tell them, "The most difficult part of being in ministry - in particular, being a preacher - is having people question your motives." It's one thing to have people disagree with you, or have people who think you should have done something in a different way, or to just have people who don't like you or your preaching, but when people feel qualified to judge the intent of your heart - it's a whole different ball game. It never happened that much, but I did have times when Christians thought I had a hidden agenda, or was picking on them, or that my motives were mean, selfish, or spiteful. Again, it was rare, but it was always discouraging and hurtful. Most of the time when those things happened, I was blessed to have plenty of defenders and supporters who came to my aid, and helped to offset some of the pain. Through those few times that it happened, I was always shocked and amazed at how easy it was for some people to ignore the need to be Christ-like and/or the need to follow the biblical pattern for resolving problems between followers of God.

About ten years ago, I changed my mind. You can't stop people -who want too - from thinking they know what is going on in your head. Once they decide to speculate rather than communicate, the possibility of convincing them they are wrong is slim. I guess, with age and maturity, I've just decided that if I'm at peace with God, the folks who want to step into His shoes and my head will just have to work that out with him. So several years ago, a new #1 "tough thing" rose to the top of my list. It's the bane of every church leader, and a great weapon that Satan uses to discourage and destroy lots of church leaders every year. In simple terms, it's the "What have you done for me lately" attitude that many church members have when they critique, judge, and even attack spiritual leaders.

The very nature of spiritual leadership is confidential, behind-the-scenes, touching lives, and serving people one-on-one that can't be shouted from the podium or printed in the bulletin. People don't know what you do or how much you do - unless they want to know and ask. I have said so many times that the single most important quality in church leadership and membership relations is trust. You can never know all the things any spiritual leader does. That's true for Shepherds, staff ministers, teachers, ministry leaders, or anyone in a leadership role. Still, no matter how much you have done, served, sacrificed, or accomplished - some people only define you by the ONE THING you didn't do for them or their ministry. The hours you work, the good you do, the family time you sacrifice, the visits and calls you make, all pale to insignificance if you aren't there when THAT person thinks you should have been. We have a nasty habit in the church of turning OUR projects or OUR ministries into a test of loyalty and love, rather than a simple opportunity to choose to be part of.

The reason it's #1 for me is because sometimes it's absolutely true. There have been plenty of times when I dropped the ball, missed an opportunity, forgot a responsibility, or let myself get distracted. Most of the time it was simply the result of prioritizing, making choices, and frankly - just facing the fact that I couldn't do everything, be everywhere, and please everyone. That's just a real fact of the job. But when you are a "people pleaser" and you see yourself as a sensitive, caring, and responsible servant of God - you don't want ANYONE to be hurt or disappointed in your ministry. So, even with rationale and justification, etc. etc. - it still hurts to know someone is critical of me and my service for God. It doesn't happen a lot, but it has, and it will probably continue to happen occasionally.

So for anyone who asks - that is the answer I give. It's my #1 toughest part of doing what I feel God called me to do. The only thing worse is when someone you love dearly has to personally learn this.

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