Here is one reason you must be called to pastoral ministry: the people you love will not love you back—at least some of them will not love you back. They will say utterly horrible things about you, so you better be sure you want to do this. It is one thing to be dissed by the world around you; it is something else again to be demeaned by your own church family while you are pouring your heart out for them.
This is the worst feature of pastoral ministry. Every pastor, unless he is surrounded by others who shield him from criticism, has dozens of heart-breaking stories. Take the example of the pastor who receives anonymous weekly letters from a congregant who claims to be speaking for many others when she writes, “I pray every day that you would leave the church.” The letters are all cut out from magazines so they have that creepy look of a murder threat.
But there is some good news. You are not alone. Read Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and your heart breaks. You know exactly what Paul is saying.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? (2 Corinthians 3:1)
Make room for us in your hearts. (2 Corinthians 7:2)
Paul planted this church from nothing. He stayed with them for a year and a half, never being a burden to them, and his love for them was on constant display.
Their response? “Who is this Paul, anyway, especially compared to these articulate and wonderful itinerant preachers who visit us? Let’s go with someone who has those up-front gifts and can add status to our struggling congregation. Let’s go with someone who looks the part.” They craved a spiritual guru who fit the world’s profile of a mover-and-shaker.
The sufferings of Christ
Pastor, this should encourage you. Paul is both identifying his experience at Corinth and prophesying that pastors who follow him will share in his experience. His logic is simple: Jesus was abandoned and betrayed by his inner circle, we should expect some of that shame to spill over into modern pastoral ministry. Knowing this, your confidence in Scripture grows, and you can actually become bolder in the face of the adversity. When Scripture reframes your hardships and reminds you that you are following in the steps of your Messiah, you almost feel unworthy.
This does not excuse the disrespectful things that congregants say. Such disrespect is a pernicious evil that we can leave for another day. At this point, please be encouraged that you are experiencing some of the natural overflow of the sufferings of Jesus, which means you are honored. Those who dishonor you are the ones who will be called to account.
This article, originally a blog post by the same name on ccef.org, is published with permission by CCEF.
Edward T. Welch (M.Div., Ph.D.) is a faculty member of CCEF. Ed has been counseling for over 30 years and has written many books and articles on biblical counseling, including When People Are Big and God is Small, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Depression, and Running Scared.
For more resources from Dr. Ed Welch, check out his audio book, Shame Interrupted. This topic of shame is so important because shame is everywhere, and it is just waiting for Scripture to unleash its beautiful and hopeful words. This audio book identifies some of those words.