This is another section of my soon to be released book (God willing), “Dancing In The Dungeon: Suffering With Hopeful Joy For God’s Glory.” This is a follow up post to How To Fire A Minister.
You’ve just walked out of what is best termed an ambush on church grounds. A group has told you your services are no longer needed at the church. They have given you two weeks pay and you’re expected to vacate your office by tomorrow evening and the house in one month. Now what?
God’s people, and others, learn how to handle suffering and adversity by watching their shepherd deal with it in a manner that glorifies God. Many ministers are terminated each day across America. Here are some suggestions from one who has been through difficult situations for you to consider. Begin by considering if you would/could say what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9…
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul was chained between two guards twenty-four hours a day… but he was at peace. There was the possibility of being killed[i]… but he was at peace. People tried to add insult to injury while Paul was incarcerated[ii]… but he was at peace. Paul’s faith was such that whatever circumstance he was in he was content.[iii] It is not an accident that the suffering God willed into Paul’s life[iv] resulted in other believer’s boldness to proclaim the Gospel in the face of possible arrest and/or execution.[v] When ministers are the example of joyfully suffering for God’s glory, then God’s people are emboldened to also glorify God in whatever circumstances they find themselves in. Suffering joyfully for God’s glory gives the Gospel and those who proclaim it credibility that proclamation alone does not provide.
From One Minister To Another: When I struggled in ministry I wanted to hear from someone who had suffered like me. I gave little credence to those who spoke from an ivory tower of education but had no scars. Those who had walked a similar path to mine, with scars to prove it, were the ones I wanted to hear. Missionary Amy Carmichael wrote the following about the necessity of trials which result in scars…
Have you no scar? No scar that is hidden? I hear people talk of how great you are. They say you are like a star in the heavens! But don’t you have a scar? Haven’t you been wounded for Christ? Many are the wounds of the faithful. Archers have used them for target practice. They feel like dying under a tree, surrounded by wild animals, about to expire. So where is your wound? Don’t you have one? Yes, as the Master is, so shall his servant be. Pierced are the hands and feet that follow him. But yours are whole! Can anyone have followed him far… who has no wound or scar?
Difficulties in ministry are no different from anyone else’s. Suffering people don’t appreciate a minister bemoaning how hard life is because they live in a dog eat dog world more vicious than the one the minister lives in. The difference between ministers and others is not that suffering happens, but the context suffering takes place. For a minister it is usually in the a local congregation. Another difference is an expectation of unbelievers inflicting pain, but it should not be so in the church where everyone is called to be loving, forgiving, merciful, and gracious to one another. Yet sadly this is the case too often.
God blessed congregations I served with growth, buildings, elimination of debt, vision for the future, and many dear Christian friends who are precious to me and my family. While there were difficult days, my experience is that God is the God of comfort as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7…
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
What now follows is a process formulated over time God used to comfort me in my afflictions. My prayer is for those in ministry to mull over these things as Paul encouraged Timothy to do while relying on God, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”[vii]
The Process For Being Comforted By God: These are “Comfort(s) by which I have been comforted by God” during the darkest and most difficult days of my life and ministry. I have worked through what follows many times in the course of decades and found God to be faithful to comfort me every time. No matter how dark the day… the severity of the struggle… or hopeless you feel, God can and will encourage, strengthen, and establish you.[viii] The following reflections are the way he did those things in my life. May he do the same for you to his glory. Work through what follows slowly, prayerfully, and honestly… trusting God.
An Important Personal Word And Suggestion:
The Way God Grows You As A Christian (Including Ministers)
Ministerial Conduct In The Process Of Termination: Nothing tests our obedience to Christ like conflict.[x]
Dear fellow minister of the Gospel, I have been in countless difficult church situations. There aren’t many things you are, have, or will go through I have not already endured. More than once I’ve had letters of resignation placed before me to sign. I’ve been surprised by groups from five to twenty pressuring me and calling for my resignation.[xi] Meetings have taken place to discuss my future I was not invited to. I know the hurt, fear, and disappointment that goes along with being placed in uncomfortable situations without having an advocate. I have wept after these meetings not knowing what to tell my wife and family. I have most likely walked in your shoes (Read the Forward).
Each time I had to decide how I would respond and conduct myself. While I confess to making mistakes along the way, I can say God honors those who honor him. So I ask you to seriously consider what I suggest here for God to work in you for His glory.[xii]
It is written in Hebrews 13:17 you will give an account to The Father for your conduct as one who is held to a higher standard.[xiii] Remember Jesus died to save those who believe and he takes how they are treated seriously.[xiv] The church is the Bride of Christ and as such is always to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. The most important message you will ever deliver to a congregation is how you conduct yourself in the midst of pressure, adversity, and trial when your future at the church is in doubt. Therefore I present for your consideration things to DO and things NOT to do. Please meditate on each of them prayerfully and seriously.
DO continue to preach and serve faithfully without taking shots at anyone.
DO be gracious and kind to everyone.
DO answer questions posed to you honestly… with an attitude of mercy and grace.[xv]
DO trust God who is in complete control of all things.[xvi]
DO pray for (Not against) those who oppose you asking God to bless them.[xvii]
DO examine your own life and heart, repenting of all sin.[xviii]
DO forgive quickly, totally, and completely whether people ask or not.[xix]
Do NOT wage a rumor campaign against your adversaries.
Do NOT say things that harm other believers, regardless of who they are or what they have said or done.
Do NOT say anything from the pulpit in a mean spirited or vindictive manner… EVER!
Do NOT be combative, argumentative, or bitter in committee or team meetings.
DO meditate long and deep on the following Scriptures…
Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:39-41)
If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15)
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next… (Matthew 10:23)
Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 12 Be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God… 20 To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Philippians 1:27, NIV)
If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:20-24)
I know your inclination is to fight back, but that is contrary to turning the other cheek and how Jesus conducted himself when in the religious context he was attacked (1 Peter above). Remember also how Stephen conducted himself when hauled before the Sanhedrin and spoke winsomely.[xx] When you are persecuted for doing good you are in good company and great is your reward in heaven.[xxi] You are not living for this world’s evaluation[xxii] but to one day hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”[xxiii] Now for the comforts by which I have been comforted by God…
[x] Dale Huff, Alabama Baptist Director of the Office of Leader Care & Church Administration
[xi] These included: Informal groups of church leaders, Deacons, Personnel Teams, and other church members.
[xx] Acts 7