By Alex Absalom
Disappointment will come. That doesn’t sound very cheery, does it?! However, as my wife Hannah and I talked about this topic, we remembered that was one of the main things we hadn’t expected.
In every church that we have led, whether a plant or an existing church, we have experienced being hurt and let down by others. I am not talking about the crazies or those that are undependable or those on the fringe. To be honest, being let down by certain types of people is fully expected and, thus, is easy to brush off.
The people I’m talking about being let down by are those closest to you and your family; those you love; those you respect and admire. The people whom you dream with about the potential for your church, but three months later they suddenly announce they are leaving for the church down the road; or, perhaps, one day a switch flips, and they fight you tooth and nail on a key area of your vision; or, maybe, they betray your trust and share what you thought were private conversations. These disappointments might come from a member of the staff you personally hired – or the one who hired you. Maybe these upsets come from the ones you thought were your best friends in the congregation.
When these upsets happen, it is deeply painful and feels as though you’ve been thoroughly betrayed. If you are in church leadership, this will happen. Multiple times.
So what can you do?
Remain open. That’s right. Open. We cannot withdraw or have high barriers to others. This does not model good discipleship, and it certainly won’t be healthy for you and your family. It will feel like everyone has deserted you, and you will be tempted to close down relationally. Just remind yourself, “Silly, silly idea. Don’t do that!”
Remember this – For every one person who lets you down, there will be a hundred who don’t!
Realize that this is a moment to define your leadership. You can’t control others and their behavior, but you can control your response.
Fix Your Eyes On God. He is the one person who is not going to let you down. That’s why Paul describes Him as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1). He is really good at dishing out comfort, so let Him do that.
Mourn the Relationship. Do this in order to move on. Sometimes, all it takes is a fireside glass of wine with your spouse or with good friend that evening. In other situations you will find that, for many months, you will have to intentionally turn to God whenever you think about the people who have hurt you, and hand your feelings back to Him. Ecclesiastes says there is a time to mourn and a time to laugh. Sometimes you may even find yourself doing them both at the same time.
Surround Yourself With Mature Christians. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” It is when you’ve been wounded that you are most vulnerable. At such a time, you need mature Christians to surround you. This is not the occasion to pour out your heart to non-Christians or immature Christians (however lovely they are), because you need Spirit-led healing. You need to draw on your mature Christian friend’s strong faith in Christ and the power of the cross and resurrection. If you try to heal your heart with wisdom of the world, then you have put something else in the place of the Gospel. Only Jesus brings healing, and you need Him to be totally setting the agenda and pace for your healing. If you don’t go this route, you will open a doorway to a root of bitterness being planted in your heart.
Protect Your Children. If you have children, do not do your therapy with them. You can NOT process it with them. It is not fair to them, because they are not mature enough to respond appropriately. So many pastor’s kids fall away from following Jesus because of how they have seen their parents being treated by people who claim to be acting in the name of Christ. They are further hurt by an astonishing lack of wisdom by hurting parents. Don’t let this happen in your family – you can control how and what you process. In fact, stick one in the eye of Satan by turning this into a positive learning experience for your children, as they observe how a Jesus follower works through grief and loss in a Christ-honoring manner. They may already be well aware of things happening, and you can address that appropriately. You can say, “This is a tough time and sadness is a part of life, and yet God is good and loves us all very much, and this is a time to really pray and worship Him”. Let your children see you doing those things! Say, “These people are still Christians and we can pray for them and not say mean things about them.” Then pray! Remind your children how many amazing Christians they still know, and how it is still such an incredible privilege to be a leader in God’s church!Turn this into a powerful faith lesson that ultimately builds their trust in God.
Learn What You Need To. The time will come when the initial sting has died down and you can look back and see what lessons you need to learn. Was there some reality, perhaps about your leadership style, in the midst of the accusation? Even the poorest chicken can find a grain of wheat in a dung pile – so what element of truth is there? Look for it, even if it is deep down and the other party expressed it totally inappropriately. Allow God to use this experience to train and mature you as a leader.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”
(2 Corinthians 4:7).
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