A stinging pinch of truth
I bet you can remember the first real backstabbing you ever received while serving in ministry. I remember my first, and I also remember some important words spoken to me by a close pastor friend shortly after… “Welcome to ministry.” Initially, I didn’t really understand what he meant. That little statement contained a bit of humor, a touch of sarcasm, and a stinging pinch of truth. Ultimately it was an important adjustment in my perspective: serving in any kind of ministry leadership role (paid, volunteer, full time, etc.) is not easy. You will get wounded by others.
Most people are not out to get you… but you will be hurt.
You will often be surrounded by fellow believers who are pursuing Jesus just like you – people who are glad to walk the journey with you. Not everyone is out to get you; but unfortunately, the few with cruel intentions usually seem to stand out. There is a certain naivety that is lost when someone turns on you for seemingly no reason – especially if it’s someone whom you invested in spiritually. But remember, you are in a spiritual war. You are not fighting against people; yet words and actions still can wound.
Walls and doormats
There will be a very real temptation to build high walls around yourself (and your family1) in an attempt to keep from being hurt. Thoughts creep in… “I won’t let anyone hurt me like that again.” Or “I need to keep people at arm’s length.” Ministry thrives on real relationships; so building walls of protection around yourself keeps you from building strong relationships with others.
But consider the opposite… Do you let yourself and your family become a doormat for every person who wants to wipe the dirt off their feet?
Neither option is good.
It’s not about balance.
You will not find a happy medium between an exposed heart (that can be easily hurt) and an isolated heart (that never gets hurt).
Think about Jesus in His last moments before heading to the cross. He knelt on the floor in front of His closest ministry friends and washed the dirt off their feet. In that very moment, He was washing the feet of a man who was about to disown Him, and others who would run away from Him in His most difficult hours, and another who was about to literally have Him dragged off to His death. Yet still, Jesus had no relational walls. These men were extremely undeserving of Jesus’ love; and so are we. He wasn’t naïve; He chose to display relentless love in spite of the hurt and betrayal.
How do we live like that? Especially in ministry where you WILL be hurt, betrayed, or at the very least, talked about unfavorably in the back corners of the church building.
The people you serve are sinners just like you.2 Love them relentlessly like Jesus. When people hurt you, continue to love them. When they turn their back on you, don’t walk away. When they lie about you, don’t attack them. When they gossip about you, don’t dwell on it. When you are stabbed in the back, pull out the knife, set it down, and keep moving forward. Don’t walk around with a fake smile or play the victim. Relentless love means that you offer forgiveness (Colossians 3:13); you don’t keep a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5); you let your love outweigh the sin (1 Peter 4:8). Let go of the hurts quickly3.
Loving people like Jesus doesn’t mean you ignore hurtful words and actions. This is not blind love; rather it is a love that willfully persists through the wound, and accepts the possibility that you will get hurt again.
Realistic and relentless love
Don’t hold the world at bay just because you have been hurt. Approach every relationship in ministry with a realistic mindset: some people will hurt you; but most will not. Regardless of any wounds in the past, present, or future, determine now that you will relentlessly love people like Jesus.
By Eddie Zdanio
1 Your family
Many will say, “I can take the personal hurts – but if they attack my spouse or my kids, then all bets are off.” I get it – I feel the same way. Think about Peter standing in the garden protecting Jesus. He literally tried to kill someone who what hurting his friend. But Jesus didn’t need Peter’s protection. I’m not about to tell you that your spouse or kids do not need your protection; but building high walls around them is not the answer. Protect and defend them; but also be open and honest as you walk with them through the hurts. Talk about it in an age appropriate way. Help them understand the situation and teach them (through your words and actions) how to act like Jesus. If they don’t learn, they are more likely to get trampled and hurt when your protection is no longer there. Surround your family with love and wisdom, not walls of seclusion.
2 You too
You have probably made some mistakes and caused some wounds along the way. Learn from your own mistakes. Make it right. Ask forgiveness.
3 Release it quickly.
Preserving the hurt caused by others is a sin. Forgiveness is an absolute command from Jesus. And I mean REAL forgiveness; not the sweep-it-under-the-rug kind… That kind only leads to bitterness, and corrupts others (Hebrews 12:15.) If you have unforgiveness in your heart left over from ministry related hurts, then that needs to be dealt with and released to the full extent between you and your Father in heaven. (And, if need be, dealt with between you and the offender.)
John 13:1–5 1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (NLT)
Colossians 3:13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (NLT)
1 Corinthians 13:5b [Love] keeps no record of being wronged. (NLT)
1 Peter 4:8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. (NLT)
Hebrews 12:15b Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. (NLT)