It was my day off, and I needed it. Our church had been experiencing revival and growth. Now the enemy doesn’t like revival. So we had weathered some storms along the way, but I thought we were sailing on to smooth seas now. I was wrong. The tempest was coming.
I got up with lots to do. Then the phone rang. It was my pastor. “Jeff,” he said. “Have you seen the Co-Jibes* today?”
“No, sir” I replied. “I don’t read that junk.”
Our town had a “newspaper” that was published weekly. The back page was called “Co-Jibes” and anybody could call and leave an anonymous comment, and the paper would print it. It could be a witty joke (occasionally), a charming antidote (rarely), or an innuendo-laced gossip-fest (usually). It didn’t matter how harsh or false it was. If someone called it in, the paper would print it.
“Well,” he replied. “I think you should hear this from a friend.”
Somebody had called the paper and smeared the pastor and some of our staff with false accusations, innuendos, and gossip. It was one of the most hurtful paragraphs I had ever read, and I was furious at this evil attack. Worse, it apparently came from a person who regularly attended our church. Not wanting to leave me out, the attacker focused solely on me in the second paragraph. Not having grounds to attack my character, they tried to humiliate me publicly with juvenile and hurtful words.
The barrage continued weekly for a couple months. Each quip was laced with cruel comments or fabricated accusations. Eventually, this embarrassing public assault became the scandal of the county. Pastors and fellow Christians in the community called to express their condolences. I appreciated their words, because it was, personally, a very hurtful time, but I was mostly grieved that it brought reproach upon the name of my Lord, Jesus Christ and upon His Church.
Eventually, we found out who made the calls. We found out there were three people in our church who took turns calling. They wanted to oust the pastor and staff and take control of the church. They failed.
I was devastated when I found out. I remembered the kind words they spoke to my face while viciously attacking me behind my back. It literally made me sick.
I understood David’s anguish when he wrote that it was a friend who had raised himself up against him (Psalm 55:12-14).
It hurts to remember. But I know these words need to be written, because I want to assure you that when I write of ministerial hurting, I am writing from a heart that knows all too well the pain that can be experienced while serving others. This is just one example of several I could share with you.
Sadly (and my heart truly breaks to type this), I know that many of you who have served in ministry have been hurt much worse. And for this, I am so sorry.
The cold, hard truth is: There are times in your ministry career when ministry is going to hurt! However, I’ve learned there are ways to overcome this sort of pain. So here are ten things to keep in mind when ministry hurts. I pray they help you as they have helped me.
1. There are times when you are going to be reviled and persecuted.
Or snubbed, mislabeled, or misunderstood. Or let down by others. Or abandoned. Or unfairly criticized. Or even betrayed by a friend. And it will either be to your face or behind your back. There may even come a time when you are going to be attacked, either verbally, emotionally, or physically. Worse, your family will sometimes be considered open game.
Is it a pretty bleak picture? Sometimes. However, most of the time, it is not. But you shouldn’t be surprised if these things transpire. Jesus gave us fair warning: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:10-11).
Notice Jesus didn’t say, “IF.” He said, “WHEN.” In other words, if you are His disciple, you will be reviled and persecuted.
Most of the writers of the New Testament epistles also warned us. For example, Paul wrote, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12, John, Peter, and Jude also cautioned us of troubles to come (see: 1 John 3:13-16, 2 Peter 2:1-3. 9-15, Jude 1:16-25).
2. The above list of things that can occur to us did happen to our Lord.
Jesus basically said in Matthew 10:24-25 that we disciples should not expect to be treated any differently than him.
3. Therefore, He knows and understands when you are hurt.
We are reminded in Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15 that He can fully relate to the pain in ministry. And He can help you overcome the hurt and avoid the temptation to react in sin.
4. These attacks can come from outside the church, but quite often come from within.
Jesus said, “the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God” John 16:2 NIV.
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:3).
5. One reason is because, “the Lord has His people in the church, and the devil has his.”
That is a quote from a godly pastor. Then he reminded me of the parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew 13:24-30. That quote has helped me carry on when people in the church bite like wolves while bleating like sheep.
6. Not all people who are hurtful are hateful.
Sometimes, the sheep are easily deceived. Sometimes we sheep think that we are doing what is good and right, but, in truth, we are working at that moment as an agent of Satan. Peter did this when he rebuked Jesus.
“He (Jesus) spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:32-33).
Other times we speak, act, or react without thinking. It may be an outburst of anger, a sarcastic remark, or just a word spoken in jest that hurts another person to the core. Notice I said we. I have many times been the one who hurt another with a careless word or deed and have had to immediately go apologize and ask for forgiveness. It’s good to remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29-32.
7. Forgive those who hurt you. Even if they don’t ever ask for it. Bless them and pray for them.
Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” Matthew 5:44 NKJV. He then demonstrated this when he forgave the soldiers who nailed him to a cross. Paul, who knew a thing or two about being hurt, wrote about forgiving:
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-18, 21). And in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us.”
8. Be on your guard and remember who the REAL enemy is.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. As Ephesians 6:10-13 says, “No matter how badly a person hurts you, they are not the real enemy. And you fight the real enemy with the full armor of God and with prayer.”
9. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Is your heart hurting? Are you fearful? Are you tempted to react in sin? Talk to him! He truly is our Wonderful Counselor! By the way, I would have quit a long time ago without this one! Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise (James 5:13 NIV, Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).
10. Rejoice and Press On.
A few years back, a very hurtful event happened in the church we were serving at. My wife and I were both the target of the public attack and as it happened, the Holy Spirit reminded us both the words of Scripture. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). I wish I could say we obeyed perfectly. Actually, we wept and mourned and took a while to recover. But all the while, the Spirit continued to urge us both to rejoice. We’re getting there.
I could end this blog with my own words of encouragement and wisdom, but I know that I am not the Wonderful Counselor. So, I will end with His words as recorded by Paul, Peter, and John.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:1-3, 33).
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:33-37).
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed” (1Peter 2:21-24).
*Not the real name of the paper
About the author: Jeff Redding is a Sales Rep at Brentwood Benson. He has been a worship pastor in both established churches and in new church starts for over twenty-six years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree from Samford University and currently serves as the worship pastor at Parkers Creek Baptist Church. He lives near Fairview, Tennessee with his wife and three children.