1 Peter 2:19-21 (NASB): “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
I want to continue the subject of opposition in the church I began in November. Our Scripture text indicates that we can be harshly treated because of our sin, or we can experience opposition because of our godliness. Obviously, none of us wants to be the cause of deserved opposition, but often we are unaware of how we create opposition for ourselves. I mentioned seven ways we can create opposition for ourselves in the last article. Immorality, laziness, not earning the right to lead, not understanding the culture, trying to be a dictator, using people to achieve success, and a programmatic approach to ministry in a rural culture are almost surefire ways to create opposition in your ministry.
We recognize that sometimes a downward cycle can occur in which we , perhaps unknowingly, create opposition and then we, in turn, begin to resent our flock. But take heart! Your problem has a diagnosis! A psychologist in England by the name of Sara Savage has diagnosed our illness and given it a name! When you feel bitterness and resentment toward your congregation, realize that you are suffering from “Irritable Clergy Syndrome” or “ICS” for short. This illness, according to Dr. Savage, is caused mostly by the pressure on clergy to be nice to everyone.
Other causes include church hoppers who are often nut-cases (my paraphrase) and complacent Christians. Trying to motivate “the ‘settled blancmange’ of the softly acquiescent majority” may in due time produce a severe case of ICS. You can read more about this at Derek Thomas’ blog. Well, I’m making light of what may be a serious and troubling issue for some reading this. My goal in writing these articles is that we, on the one hand, do not add to the burden of ministry by creating our own problems and that we, on the other hand, accept that the faithful discharge of our duties may create opposition.
Let’s begin to consider five other causes of self-inflicted opposition.
First, problems in the home may often lead to problems in the church. We lead primarily by example and the greatest example people see is in the home. A poor example undermines our spiritual authority to lead the church. An elder “must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim 3:4). The leading problem I’ve observed in this area is role reversal in which the wife appears to be over the husband. Other problems include lack of communication and preoccupation with ministry to the neglect of the family. No family is perfect nor should a family squeeze into some type of “ideal” mold. Yet, by God’s grace, a ministerial family should be seeking to follow Ephesians 5:21-6:4 and modeling the kind of family life that should exist in the church family. Having experienced some failures in this area, I know how difficult this is to accomplish when we are in ministry and living life in a “fishbowl.”
Our family life may be our area of greatest vulnerability, especially if we neglect it. Another area that may sabotage our ministry is unrealistic expectations about spiritual growth and maturity. It is not so much that our expectations are wrong, but more how they are achieved. In a complacent Christian environment, a pastor must earnestly preach, pray, and work toward spiritual change, but must be patient while God brings about the change. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6:
“And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We can quickly begin to resent our people as we become frustrated with their lack of spiritual progress. No matter that we are not as much of a spiritual giant as we think we are or that God’s work is often subtle and, for a time, undetected. As our bitterness over unfulfilled expectations grows, we become less adept at hiding it from our people. They detect the feelings behind a sarcastic remark of ours or a look and discern they have a shepherd who resents his sheep. It is a tough balance to strike. We never want to become complacent with their complacency. Yet, we must always teach and preach in full surrender to the Spirit’s working in their lives. Only He can produce meaningful change and if they reject His convicting work we must grieve over them but not resent them.
Personality weaknesses may easily sabotage a ministry, sometimes not quickly but eventually. Such things as shyness, underlying anger, insecurity, dominance, disorganization are personality weaknesses that can undermine or destroy our effectiveness. Paul asks who is adequate for these things yet we are not to remain in our inadequacy but bring it to God. If you have a dysfunctional background, make sure you have allowed God to heal damaged emotions. I have a pastor friend who grew up in an alcoholic family. He used to hate to have his father come to basketball games because he would be drunk. This fellow, successful in the first years of his ministry, was controlling and over-achieving, not because of a passion for Christ, but because of an alcoholic co-dependency background. He almost lost his wife as a result and did lose his ministry for a time. Thankfully, they both received help and have been wonderfully restored in their marriage and ministry.
We must reach the point in our walk with God where we allow His grace to change us. God does not want us to “paper over” the difficult circumstances of our life, but He wishes us to use them to gain a deeper appreciation of His grace. How do we know if we have a weakness that is affecting our ministry? Do we have something in our background that we have not honestly faced? Do we repeatedly experience the same problems in ministry? Is there someone we can ask about our blind spots? Do our critics have something right in their criticism?
Unfortunately, our personality weaknesses are often coping mechanisms that we have finely tuned to protect ourselves from hurt. Only the most courageous will be able to take an honest look at who they really are.
Lack of a call to ministry will create opposition. We don’t see this often in Village Missions because most of our guys would not do what they do without a clear call from God. But some enter pastoral ministry as a profession rather than as a calling. Because true ministry is impossible without a call from God, those who attempt it without one will inevitably experience problems. We can continue to endure when encountering strong opposition because we know that we are doing what God wants us to do. Sometimes that knowledge is the only thing that keeps us going. Finally, unwillingness to submit to authority will eventually create opposition. We read in Hebrews 13:17:
Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Ever since I attended a Gotthard seminar as a young Christian and learned about the principle of authority (one of Gothard’s accurate teachings if not taken too far), I have tried to submit to the authority of those over me. When serving as a Village Missionary, I tried to be under the authority of my church board, my D.R., and the Mission itself.
Since becoming Director I have tried to be under the authority of the Board of Village Missions. This has two major benefits, among others. First, God places those in authority over us for mentoring, correction, encouragement, and rebuke. We need it! Recently the Board pointed out an area of my ministry as Director that was deficient. They did it in love, and I am trying to benefit from their wise leadership. A second benefit is that we model for others what it means to be under authority. How can I expect my board or congregation to be under my authority as pastor if I am not under the authority of Village Missions? If they see my example of submitting to authority they will more easily submit to authority when I lead them.
Whew! Enough of the opposition we cause for ourselves! Next time, Lord willing, we will consider the opposition we face when we faithfully serve God. May the opposition we experience always be because of our godliness and not because of our sin!