Several years ago my wife got me one of my now-favorite coffee mugs with the following words on it, “It’s too peoply outside”…a perfect fit for introverted me. For all of my fellow church leaders out there, do you struggle to process the tension between the high calling God has given you and the lag or even resistance of the dear people God has given to you within that same calling? I love our church folks, but I do. Just the other day I received the following text from a good friend of mine in the ministry, “I actually said the words to my wife yesterday, ‘Sometimes I feel like what we are doing isn’t making much of a difference in the people’s lives around us!’ It hurts to want more for people than they want for themselves!” The Apostle Paul, after listing all the heart-wrenching challenges of ministry in 2 Corinthians 11, shares the same sentiment, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” Truly the greatest challenge of ministry is not from an overwhelming threat from without but to keep caring for others on the inside through tedious, tough tensions of what could be/should be!

If that first paragraph resonates with you, here are some practical ways I am discovering to keep loving the dear sheep of my local flock even when they are brazenly stubborn or just timidly hesitant to follow clear, godly directives:

  1. Realize that the same care for people that got you into the ministry is going to be the same care, with greater maturity and tenacity, that alone will keep you rightly in the ministry.
  2. Remember “the win” is not ultimately the human response to our leadership but adherence to the divine mandate of living and leading in the Word whether it be “in season or out of season.”
  3. Always, always, always give the benefit of the doubt to those who seem to never participate in a major event or initiative (anything more than Sunday AM service like evening service, outreach, small groups, serving, giving, etc.) of your local church. (Bluntly put, the preachy, passive-aggressive posts online don’t work and greatly diminish your influence.)
  4. Instead of blaming others privately or publicly, be a leader who shoulders prayerful responsibility for the problems in your church.
  5. Be willing to be known as the leader who can be “for” someone even if that same person disagrees with you.
  6. Don’t give up or think the holdouts are not listening to your repeated efforts to enlist them/engage them in a deeper relationship with Christ…they may be closer to breaking than you could ever imagine!
  7. Insulate your wife, kids, and grandkids from a cool, cynical view of local church ministry by refusing to gossip and slander in front of them about those who have hurt you or disappointed you.
  8. To fight the “I am the only minister struggling to lead these kind of people” pursue fellowship with other church leaders not just to share commiseration or gossip but edifying been-there-felt-that support and encouragement.
  9. Don’t make those who stay in your church bear the brunt of bitterness you, as the “victim,” improperly hold against those who leave your church. (Take the high road.)
  10. Allow your heart to continually break for instead of wishing for the demise of those who trade in their walk with the Lord for a life filled with the fleeting pleasures of this present world.
  11. Stay consistently available to serve those who are reluctant at best to serve in any consistent capacity themselves.
  12. Realize that chances are when someone is hating you, it’s not really about you at all but their own internal struggles and insecurities.
  13. When prompted by the Lord to engage with the holdouts, ask questions instead of making accusations. (Questions stir the conscience; accusations harden the will.)
  14. Read broadly in Scripture, church history, and even antiquity of those who have gone before you to remind yourself that suffering at the hands of people as a minister of Christ is nothing new or unique to only the challenging service of your generation.
  15. Persistently focus upon the right tone and pace of your ministry more than how it is wrongly being received or perceived by others.
  16. Find a go-to playlist of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to help you worship instead of whine your way through interpersonal challenges.
  17. Live with the conviction that people are not the “only downside” to pastoral ministry but the very reason for it.
  18. Remember that we pastors are NOT the Holy Spirit, the ultimate Guide and Illuminator for every believer. (Either we believe in the priesthood of the believer and soul liberty or we don’t.)
  19. Humbly admit that your own walk with Christ is largely shaped by pastors, pastor’s wives, counselors, parents, and other ministers who loved you when you yourself were the stubborn sheep that wasn’t so easy to lead.
  20. Lastly, just love people like Jesus, the One who is the gold standard for we under-shepherds and died for us “while we were yet sinners.”

Any pastor who takes his calling seriously will tell you of the pressures he feels in ministry: people in crisis, people leaving, people coming, people disappointed by him, people disappointing to him. People, people, people. Until our heart for Lord and His assignment for ministry is “people-proofed” we will continue to be subject to the inconsistent moods and whims of those we lead instead of the Lord who has the right to lead us! As Bonhoeffer so soberly confronts us, “A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.” (There is only one kingdom committed to accusing God’s people, and it’s not God’s!)

Here’s a parallel post on fighting the numbness of heart to which we pastors and wives are prone.

Can your church and community count on you, as a Spirit-saturated minister, to show up and steadily lead toward a God-sized goal and mission, whether they are in or out? Are you known to have both convictions on principle and care for people? Do you possess the emotional intelligence needed to not allow disappointment and hurt in one area/relationship in the ministry to bleed over into other areas/relationships? Is your mouth known to make excuses and accusations or…solutions? I know it sounds counterintuitive, but that tender, passionate, gracious profile of heart is the only kind that can engage and enlist followers for the long haul.

This whole “people-proofing” thing is not about INSULATING and ISOLATING from people (like my coffee mug is advocating for) but possessing a sphere of influence that is INDEPENDENT of people-including our own fickleness-so we can be consistently FOR very flawed and needy people in the name of Jesus. There is nothing more refreshing…more breathtakingly supernatural than to be in the presence of a long-tenured pastor who still loves-I mean really loves-his God-assigned flock. May the Lord truly grant you and me the privilege of being counted amongst this unfortunately minority of ministers with the same glorious pulse!

2 Co 12:15 “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash