3 LESSONS THE PAIN OF MINISTRY TAUGHT ME LAST WEEK
Anyone who’s given their life to ministry knows ministry is tough. Honestly, it’s been really good for me, in many ways in many places. But I can honestly say the last two weeks have been the most emotionally trying in my 20 years of ministry.
The catalyst for my pain was the suffering of two families I love.
Dave Reed—a Bible teacher in our church, a former elder, and a strong supporter of the ministry here—almost died in a terrible auto accident close to Louisville, Kentucky. Now, two weeks after his car hydroplaned and flipped and he had to be cut out of it, he’s facing weeks and weeks of rehab in an effort to restore his limbs and his whole body to normal function.
Several days later my friends Scott and Holly Gibson lost their 10-year-old daughter, Sable, who suddenly stopped breathing after a simple diagnosis of the flu. The shock of her death was followed by our community’s extravagant outpouring of love to the Gibson family. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people around us found ways to express their own sorrow and share the Gibsons’ loss. The story made national news.
As I have wrestled with my own emotions in the face of all this pain, I’ve come to three conclusions.
Courage in the face of pain is more real than the appearance of courage in times of of joy.
In Through the Eyes of a Lion Levi Lusko explains how lions catch their prey. The female does most of the work, finding and chasing an animal for the kill. The male sits and rests until the female gets their victim running toward him. His job is to rise up and roar loudly. The terrified animal usually runs away from that roar, right into the jaws of the female waiting behind him.
So he tells us to do what I’ve seen the Reed and Gibson family do: run toward the roar. When you run away from pain, you never get past the pain. Leaning into the pain moves you through the pain.
This is not about denying reality, trying to pretend it doesn’t hurt or it’s not so bad. It’s about walking by faith through each painful moment with the hope for freedom in the future.
Pettiness pursues problems. Reconciliation resurrects relationships. I thought a lot about reconciliation last weekend.
For the average church member, if someone leaves his congregation for another, they’re probably still friends. They stay in touch. They go together to dinner. But for the minister, when someone leaves the church, they stop being his friend. Those outside of ministry may not think about how painful this can be.
I’ve been here at Christ’s Church almost seven years. I certainly know about many who have come and gone from our church in that time.
I’ll admit there’s been a lot of pain in my heart the last few years because of what I’ve been through. But I can also honestly say I felt zero resentment last weekend when I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile. That moment of mourning gave a whole new perspective on the past. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and many of us are holding onto feelings or attitudes we need to let go. I’ve experienced that process of letting go in the last several days. I’ve seen that forgiveness withheld today will create regret that you may not be able to make right tomorrow.
I’ve been asking myself, “How have I not loved people better?” Love does not ignore reality or try to pacify someone by denying the truth. Love is walking with someone through the truth.
Love is the greatest currency we have. I think of Hosea paying to get his prostituted wife Gomer back. His money was the currency that satisfied her owner, but his love was the currency that pushed him to pursue her.
My sermon last Sunday was about marriage, and I spent quite a bit of time talking about agape love, the sacrificial love the apostle holds up in 1 Corinthians 13 and in many other places. Before all the tragedy of last week, the sermon had been written to contain these verses in the conclusion:
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).
The message for husbands and wives is a message for every Christian, and it’s a message for me. Sacrificial love, a willing forfeiture of rights and privileges on another person’s behalf, is what brings unity. It’s me saying “I care way less about me than I care about you. I care less about how I feel in this moment and way more about the reality you’re in now. I care way less about my preference and way more about how you feel about Jesus.”
As a Christian leader, I must live out the love I’m talking about with others. Otherwise all our plans for outreach are little more than just another corporate strategy.
I know our church won’t grow if God doesn’t deal with my heart. And I know he’s been refining my heart in significant ways in the last several days.