One of the most difficult aspects of being a pastor's wife is when people are unhappy with our church, when church members are disappointed with my husband or when brothers and sisters are critical with our sincere attempts at ministry. My heart has been absolutely broken many times when people have left our church because we weren't "enough" or because we didn't provide the programs that they desired. It has been extremely disheartening to feel people pulling away from me with no discussion or explanation. The cold shoulder sometimes speaks louder than the vitriolic tongue.
Can anyone in ministry relate to what I am talking about?
After spending nearly 40 years in local church ministry, I have discovered a strategy that tenderly strengthens me during these moments of human pain. I cannot avoid people leaving our church nor can I escape the downside of people's emotions but what I can do is to default to a strategy that consistently delivers healing and power in spite of the disheartening choices of others.
First of all, I attempt to respond with kindness. There is no room for bitterness, uncontrolled anger or acrimony in the body of Christ and so as leaders, we must be sure to keep our hearts clean of such emotional responses. The healthiest thing I can do when someone leaves our church is to simply bless them; I can pray for them and send them out with favor. I even try to follow up with an act of practical kindness such as a gift card to a favorite coffee shop, a bouquet of flowers or a treat from a local bakery.
The second thing I do is to refuse to gossip about the situation or about the people involved. I always proactively and intentionally speak positively about people who have left our church or who are acting in an unkind manner. When others speak unkindly, I am known to give a good report. When church members try to involve me in swamp-like conversations, I choose charitable words. When others go low, I always attempt to go high.
The third thing I do is to remind myself that the reason I am in ministry is to please the Lord and not to please people. When people reject or criticize, the Lord continually embraces and encourages His dear children. And so I remind myself that I really do serve an audience of one.
The fourth thing I try to do is to learn from the situation. What could I have done differently? Is there something I need to change? A situation is never just one-sided; we can all learn, grow, change and become better because of difficult situations in church life.
And finally, the last thing I do is to choose joy. When people are less than gracious, I walk in the joy of the Lord. When others criticize and complain, I choose the joy of His presence. When discouragement begins to go for my jugular, I turn the other cheek and embrace joy.
Sticky situations in ministry are unavoidable, and fractious people are part of the call to serve the kingdom of God. There is so much about leadership in the body of Christ that I am unable to control, but I can control my response to the uncontrollable. And so, this day and every day, I determine to choose joy!
Carol McLeod is an author and popular speaker at women's conferences and retreats, where she teaches the Word of God with great joy and enthusiasm. Carol encourages and empowers women with passionate and practical biblical messages mixed with her own special brand of hope and humor. She has written five books: No More Ordinary, Holy Estrogen!, The Rooms of a Woman's Heart and Defiant Joy! Her most recent book is Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire. Her teaching DVD, The Rooms of a Woman's Heart, won the Telly Award, a prestigious industry award for excellence in religious programming.
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