Being a follower of Jesus means that you are going to face rejection. The world may reject you (John 15:20) and your own family may reject you (Luke 12:52-53). If you are a church leader and serve people, you may be rejected by the very people that you pray for, minister to, and love. For example, think of the apostle Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 9). Paul spent eighteen months pouring his life into ministering to the Corinthians (Acts 18:1-17). Yet even after making so many sacrifices, they still were willing to reject his apostolic leadership.
There are a lot of reasons why your leadership may be rejected. You may be rejected because your personality clashes with those whom you care for. Here in the United States, what that often equates to is that those people will just leave your church and attend one down the street. Other times you may be rejected because your doctrine is not viewed as being the same as theirs. I know several Dispensationalists who will not extend Christian fellowship to those who hold to Amillennialism.
But those aren’t the only reasons why the people you serve may reject you.
In reading Exodus, there’s an interesting way that we can think about how people respond to spiritual leadership. I know very few pastors who do not relate somehow to Moses. While I know that today’s people of God are much more sophisticated and spiritual, Moses had to deal with a lot of grumbling (Exodus 16:7-12). Yes, that was sarcasm.
Since there seems to be some type of relationship between God’s people in Exodus and God’s people after the Resurrection (cf. 2 Cor. 8:15; Rom. 9:15), it seems wise to take notice of the emotional and spiritual attitude of the slaves in Egypt in order to better understand the emotional and spiritual attitude of people struggling today.
As I’m reading Exodus 6, I find a provocative explanation of our Egyptian slaves. After Moses goes to the people of Israel and tells them that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was going to deliver them from the oppression of the Egyptians into the Promised Land because he had heard their groaning (Ex. 6:1-8), we read the following explanation of the people’s emotional and spiritual attitude and health:
“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” (Ex. 6:9)
If we try and extrapolate this explanation, we can find here’s two specific reasons why Christians may reject Godly leadership, counsel, and ministry.
First, they may have “Broken Spirit Syndrome.” This is to say that people in the congregation you serve may be really discouraged and no longer have the patience to press on. That’s the general sense of ??? ???. This is translated in a number of ways: “broken spirit” (ESV), “anguish of spirit” (KJV), “despondency” (NAU), “discouragement” (NIV, NET; cf. NLT). The point is that they were emotionally damaged.
This means that sometimes people may reject your leadership simply because they have become so discouraged that they do not have any hope or faith in trusting God. They may even take out some of their anger towards God on you. It’s easy to see why the people of Israel were so discouraged… they had spent hundreds of years in bondage to Egyptian masters! Could you imagine being in a situation where your fathers fathers fathers father was a slave, and it looked like your children were going to suffer the same fate. Plus, on top of that, the political leader of where you are living has made a decree to actually start killing some of your kids! I think it’s save to say that you’d be, at the very least, discouraged. Some might call for revolution, but most people would have “broken spirit syndrome.”
What’s the solution? You need to somehow and someway cast a vision of hope to your people! You’ll need to love through their discouragement. You’re going to have to overlook some really unhealthy expressions of that brokenness too because, after all, “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). And more than anything, I think you’ll need to continue to cast a big picture of God’s faithfulness. That doesn’t mean you need to respond to all discouragement with Hallmarkesque spiritual responses (“God’s ways are higher than ours” or “God works in mysterious ways”). Those will just bring about more distrust. But I think you can paint a picture of a great God who is faithful and loving and sovereign and committed to both his own glory and to his people! There is comfort and hope in those truths.
So get caught up trying to encourage and build up people you serve (1 Thess. 5:11).
Second, their emotional health is often deeply connected to the situations they are in. In my mind, this is one of the reasons why pastors need to think about preparing people for the storms and valleys of life. Everyone’s susceptible to being discouraged. And we’d be wise, as leaders and fellow followers of Jesus, to recognize that for many people there is a connection between the situations we are in and our emotional (and spiritual) health. Yes, I’ll be the first to say that you can be somewhat prepared for storms in that you have learned and developed a deep trust and intimacy with God so that when those storms come, you fair well. But not everyone has that maturity. So you can either complain about how unprepared people you serve are or you can acknowledge that their circumstances may be really difficult, so much so that they become discouraged and hopeless.
How can you serve these people? I think you can go out of your way to share in the situations that are discouraging them (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 12:26). By “share in them,” I mean that you should get your hands dirty and become involved. Don’t play it safe and just say, “Hope that works out.” Pray for them. Meet with them. Love on them. Care for them. Forgive them.
There are other reasons why your leadership may be rejected. This is what happens in a “messy church” environment right? We could talk about those other reasons for hours. But what do you think about these two inter-related issues? I’d love to know your thoughts on this…
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Good thoughts. When we risk ourselves enough to truly care for others, investing ourselves in them, giving of ourselves, we also open ourselves up to a lot of pain at their hands. Many times, pastors have to do this with so many more people than the people in the congregation, that it can be difficult at times. As one of the people in the congregation, I would just like to go on record as saying, “THANK YOU!” I know you have encouraged me many many times, and I’m sure you do that for many others in the congregation as well.