For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” —1 Peter 2:6
Life is full of struggles and difficulties, and if you have been in ministry, you know the times of being in the valley. There are times we question what God is doing through the times of pain, struggle, and disappointment. Our focus can become skewed because of various circumstances that occur in our own lives and in the life of the church. Whether with our families or our church family, we desire for all of them to flourish and grow in their relationship with the Living God. We labor in the Word and pray that the Lord will break the Bread of Life to His people and nourish their souls every Lord’s Day. We are excited when the Lord sends specific ones into our church family whom we believe will come along side us to serve God’s people more effectively. However, what happens when things do not go according to plan? What happens when people we trust or believe have potential to help the church severely let us down? I have been a pastor for eleven years, and so many others have endured much greater things than I, but in the short time I have been an under-shepherd, there have been some very trying times for our church. Aside from dealing with those who cause friction in the body, there are the frustrations of ministry to overcome also.
In our church, we have dealt with a few different situations over the years that tested our love for one another and the overall unity of the church. A few years after starting the church, we began studying the subject of worship and quickly realized that what we were doing was not worshiping in spirit and in truth. We were singing songs in the service that were songs that we liked or moved us, but we did not consider the content of what we were singing, whether it was pleasing to the Lord, and if those songs led the congregation to honor Christ even more. We halted everything and became more intentional on our song choices and threw out many songs we were singing. It was a very dramatic turn and we ended up losing some families. It was a tough time for a couple of years, but the Lord brought us through. It truly hurts when families leave, and I have a tendency to take things like that personally, because I feel responsible for them.
We have had some come and go who were more like “worship police” during their time with us. People like this are very critical of those who do not “worship” as they do: eyes closed, hands raised, etc. These are the frustrating instances for any pastor because, as a shepherd, you know your congregation and their genuine love for Christ and His Word, and then the “worship police” pass judgment concerning the authenticity of another’s worship simply based on outward expressions. It’s the knowledge of God that moves the heart to praise and give thanks, and the outward expression of that will be different in each person. In instances like these, there is the temptation to allow hard feelings to arise because you want to defend your people against nonsense like this.
Some rough times have occured because of those who make their claim to love the Lord but do not follow what the Lord says in the areas of having an ought with your brother or following the steps of church discipline to establish when a wrong has or has not occurred. I remember reading a book years ago that was recommended by a brother in Christ called “Well-Intentioned Dragons.” Basically, it is about persons within the church who possibly have a desire to help but who are, in fact, dragons and dangerous to the unity and focus of the congregation. We have had some like that since we have started. The situations that came about caused pain for many, but through our genuine love for one another and our shared commitment to Christ our Lord, we were able to move forward as a church family. The times of testing will come upon a church, and there will be times of frustration with people, times of hurt by circumstances, and times of questioning our Lord as to why these things happened. Why did He send some to our church whom we thought would benefit the congregation, but only ended in disappointment? Sometimes we may never understand why, but we can know with certainty that our Lord was working in the midst of the pain and frustration. Why? Because He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).
Beloved, placing too much expectation on people is an easy trap to fall into. Alister Begg rightly stated, “Even the best of men are men at best.” People will disappoint us, just as we have disappointed others ourselves. This is why we have to be on guard to make certain that our trust and confidence is in Christ alone. The Scripture says, “To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed” (Ps 22:5), and, “Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5). Isaiah 28:16, which states, “Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed,” is quoted in three New Testament passages: Romans 9:33; 10:11; and 1 Peter 2:6. There are numerous other passages that call upon believers to trust in the Lord because He is the Faithful One. Instead of allowing the frustrations to rob us of joy, dear friends, let us remember that God is working in us and through the church to bring about His will and purpose.
There are, of course, the frustrations that go on within ourselves as pastors. Because of various circumstances, there are times of feeling alone and believing that no one else can understand what we are experiencing. We preach after a long day at work (if you are bi-vocational as I) and not many come to church. For pastors, we are committed to being at the church every Wednesday and every Lord’s Day regardless. It’s tough when we work hard in preparation of a sermon and very few show up. We may even entertain thoughts that our labor is in vain. But, for you dear pastor, your calling is to feed whoever shows up with the truth of God. Your joy is to obey the Lord who called you, and not let your heart be discouraged because of who comes or does not. Yes, we must shepherd Christ’s sheep and call them to be committed to Christ and His church, but you cannot control what others do or the circumstances that may prevent them from being there. Dear pastor, feed the sheep who are able to come. We are not looking for a large audience, but rather, we are seeking to be used by the Great Shepherd to nourish His sheep with the Word of Christ.
None of this is to say that there are only experiences of pain and disappointment in ministry. Not at all. There are some times of great joy in ministry, and joy in simply being a part of a congregation committed to Christ and His Word. I love all the people at our church, and I love to see them, fellowship with them, and to hear of all that God is doing in their lives. I am truly thankful to the Lord for all in our congregation. It excites my heart seeing the congregation grow in Christ as a result of the ministry of the church, as it should you, friends. We are prone to focus on the periods of trials rather than the joyous times. In my opinion, we do so because when we are hurt or frustrated, those feelings tend to linger much longer if we aren’t careful. They can overshadow the occasions of gladness in ministry.
Dear Christian, remember that we are in this for the long haul. Let us not be exasperated because our plans are not moving along as fast as we desire, or with having to deal with problematic people or circumstances. God is at work in us and in His people. He will bring about what He desires, but you and I are to be faithful to Him, trust Him, and delight in Him. There is much joy in laboring for the King. The Apostle Paul writes, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal 6:9).