Whether you are a pastor or just a Christian seeking to be faithful to disciple others, I have an encouragement for you.
There are times when your faithfulness in ministry will lead to opposition of the worst kind – opposition from those that you are ministering to. Nothing is more disheartening and nothing offers more temptation to grow bitter or weary in doing good than this. There are days when you will be tempted to love yourself and compromise because the price of truly helping people is just too high. I can promise you that if you are faithful you will face this kind of opposition. Why? Because even the Christians that you are ministering to have indwelling sin, just like you do. Immature Christians especially are going to have strongholds where old Lord or Lady Autonomy are putting up a fight. And when this happens I have a few simple words of encouragement.
Don’t take it personal.
In the moment the opposition you face may seem like a personal attack, but it may not be.
When we meet people with God’s word, we meet them with an authority that is higher than us or them, and if we are doing our job we will present God’s word to them as such. And when the word of God with its authority and insight meets our sin and remaining grasp on autonomy (self-rule) often a fight ensues. And if you are being a channel of truth, it will feel often like the fight is against you. But it’s not.
Let’s admit that we are weak, that we fail in our delivery of truth. But the reality is that even Jesus, who had perfect delivery, faced more opposition than we will ever know. The bottom line is that sinners, even the saved sinners in your church, don’t like being told they are wrong, they don’t like having their self-rule violated. And neither do you at times I am sure. This is in part what makes ministry such a sacrifice. This what makes Christian love in the local church so hard. But don’t bear more of the burden than you must. Recognize the problem. Don’t take it personal.
What is the problem?
We get a good picture of the problem and how to respond to it in 1 Samuel 8 when God’s people rebel and demand their leader – the prophet Samuel – to give them a king so they can be like all the other nations.
When Samuel approaches God with their request God responds to him:
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV)
The people’s request may have seemed like an affront to Samuel’s faithful leadership. Perhaps he could have taken offense and lashed out at them. But God pointed out to him that the problem was bigger than a problem with Samuel, and yet this truth also lifted the burden of responsibility off Samuel. He did his job. He was faithful. He didn’t need to take their rebellious request personally.
As a pastor this is something I need to remind myself of often and as you disciple people or shepherd people, if you are faithful, you will need to hear these words as well. It is part of the messy business of helping people grow to look more like Jesus. And in the process, as you do not take offense but rather entrust yourself “to Him who judges justly” (1 Pt. 2:22) you also grow to become more like Christ.
This is also a reminder to us as we receive truth. We may not like the way it is spoken, we may not like the person speaking, but is our rejection of the messenger actually a rejection of the message?
Be faithful. Be humble. Don’t shy back from speaking the truth. People will get upset. They will say hurtful things. They will take their rebellion out on you. Chances are you have done the same thing at some point. This is a part of God’s authority colliding with sinful hearts. For the love of the church and for the love of God, keep speaking the truth in love, holding forth the Word of God for what it is – our final authority. And if they respond well, don’t boast. And if they respond poorly, don’t take it personal.