Yesterday I was filling out an application for the Pastors of Excellence program (I’ll no doubt write more about that program in the future if I am accepted). The application was surprisingly probing.
One of the questions gave me some pause. It asked, “What is your greatest frustration in ministry?”
My immediate response was to say that nothing frustrated me more than when people get upset at something that has gone wrong or that hasn’t gone their way in the life of the church and, in response, they withhold something – perhaps their money or their time and talent or, in the worst cases, their entire presence.
I do hate that and find it very frustrating. And even if the thing that they are reacting to has nothing to do with me and is nothing that I could have (or should have) made to go differently, I always feel as if it is my fault. I feel personally attacked.
So that is the response that I wrote down. But when I went back and looked at it, I knew that I hadn’t really told the whole story. Though I hate that kind of circumstance, I realized what really frustrated me wasn’t quite that.
You see, I find that I may hate the circumstance but I do not hate the people who react that way. The real frustration is that I can sympathize with them, even while I do not approve of the ways that they respond. The reality is that things do go wrong in the church – sometimes very seriously wrong. People are unkind or unfeeling towards others. Disagreements are not dealt with constructively. Often (not always, of course) when people are upset they have good reason to be. I don’t like the way that they react but I am frustrated to find that I can sympathize with them. Perhaps it would be so much easier if I could just hate them, but I find that I can’t.
I have decided to preach a sermon (in a couple of months) on the issue of when people withdraw from their support of the church because they have been aggrieved. I don’t know what to say about it yet, but I am seeking some Biblical inspiration. The best story I can come up with so far is Jesus’ parable of the tenants who refused pay their rent, but that one hardly ends well – with everyone dead. (Though, I guess, that is where the church might end up if we don’t tackle this problem.)
Where else might I look?