Anyone involved in ministry knows it can be bumpy, messy and hard at times. Usually we are dealing with someone else's mess or the hardness of someone else's life. This is what it means to be a shepherd and pastor. This is what soul care and discipleship look like. At other times we are dealing with a mess of our own making, a mess dealing with a hard situation that can be traced back us. How do we handle these bumps?
I don't think it matters which of the above cases is happening, it's handled the same. It's handled like any other conflict between believers. There are at least a couple things to do, and at least one thing not to do.
Things to do
- LISTEN. We need to take the concerns that are brought to us seriously. Even if those concerns are directed towards you, listen to them. Hear the person out. Don't try to have the right answer. Don't try to justify. Just listen. Be ready to ask clarifying questions, but not before you have truly listened.
- OWN. Once you've listened, you're in a much better place to own it. Whether it's your sin or the sins of others that created this mess in the first place; we need to own it ourselves or help them to own it. What I mean by owning it is seeing it clearly as sin and take responsibility for it.
- REPENT. The first step in taking responsibility is repenting. Even as leaders ... especially as leaders ... repenting is necessary. By repenting I mean taking responsibility for sin by turning away from sin and back towards God. This should be accompanied by sorrow over sin (2 Cor. 7:9-11), and doing what's necessary to bring about reconciliation. If you want to know what true repentance looks like according to JC Ryle check here.
The one thing not to do
Don't overthink it. Whether it's someone else's messiness and/or hardness of your own, don't overthink it. We need to think about the mess, think about hardness. The minute we overthink it, we give into despair and get depressed or get overwhelmed and give into self-loathing. This usually leaves us unable to move in any direction.
There will always be bumps in the road of ministry. People, even pastors and elders will make mistakes. But they are bumps that God can use for the purpose of sanctification. They aren't sinkholes; nor are they mountains, they are bumps. Overthinking creates sinkholes. Overthinking creates mountains. I'm not saying these bumps aren't important or shouldn't be dealt with. I am saying we have to be careful about how we handle these bumps.
When we overthink our own messiness and/or someone else's hardness we are focused in the wrong direction; us. If the focus is on us, it's not on Christ. Christ has to be central is all areas of life. When we overthink, we tend to forget about Christ, who we are in Christ and what He has done for us. When focused on oursleves we think we have to be, and can be, the change agents in our lives. Without faith and repentance true change is not possible.
Therefore, stay focused on Christ. Remember who He says you are and believe it. Remember what He calls you do with sin, repent of it. Seek to follow faithfully where he leads. This takes humility and honestly.
Ministry without bumps is a myth; it's impossible because of sin. But if the bumps are dealt with, real lasting damage can be avoided while relationships are restored and strengthened.