“We are going to find a more loving, compassionate pastor!” I remember the sting of those words, even though they were spoken to me nearly 20 years ago now. I can still see the woman’s tearfully angry eyes piercing through me as we ended a discussion explaining why I would not officiate the wedding of her daughter to a non-Christian.
“We have never found anyone who could teach the Bible as effectively as you! It has been life-changing for us!” I was so encouraged as a young church planter to hear such words from a new family. Yeah, that was a good day!
“This whole place is filled with judgmental *$#@! I’m done with all of you!” I heard those words from a musician we had asked to step down from our worship team because he was sleeping with his girlfriend and refused to stop. That incident occurred in that same church plant, on the day after the “good day” I mentioned above. After all, we can all only enjoy so much sunshine.
“The people here are so warm and loving. We and our children have loved it every time we come here!” Those were words I received just yesterday in an email from a family new to our area who have been visiting our church.
“We just can’t get connected here, so we are going to try some other places.” This was another email I received a month ago, from a couple who enthusiastically joined our church only three months ago!
When they tell you “ministry is a roller coaster,” they aren’t kidding!
We pastors are rightly expected to invest heavily in our churches. But sometimes, the way we invest makes us more subject to the emotional roller coaster than we should be. To use an economic analogy, too many pastors relate to their churches the way an investor relates to an “Exchange Traded Fund” (ETF). An ETF is an investment fund that balances stocks, bonds, commodities, and other investments in a way that will most closely match stock market performance. The net result is that market performance is nearly identical to your investment performance. So in a year like we have been having, anyone invested in an ETF is pretty happy. Conversely, 10 years ago ETF investors probably wondered if they would ever be able to retire!
In short, investment in an ETF most likely means your mood is determined by the market’s daily performance. And when something that volatile determines your peace of mind, well, you don’t typically enjoy a lot of true peace.
That’s what happens to a lot of pastors. We are invested in our churches at a level that ties our disposition to the largest pockets of volatility in the congregation. And that’s not healthy.
The truth is, we are never the saint our biggest fans think we are, nor are we the antichrist our worst critics see in us. But when our daily disposition toward our churches—or even our own sense of competence and worth—is measured solely in terms of how people react to us, we can become just as emotionally and spiritually volatile as the most immature in our churches. “The fear of man,” Proverbs 29:25 tells us, “will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” The key to getting off the emotional roller coaster that is powered by a focus on the approval of others—and staying off—is to remember these four truths:
Remember who you are.
You and I are, first and foremost, not pastors, but children of the most high God! We are purchased by the blood of Jesus and adopted into God’s family with all the rights that come with being His children. That, and nothing else, defines the core of who we are. When we tie our worth, or our identity, to the opinions of a few, or to how many people filled the seats this past Sunday, we insult our Redeemer and lose the very stable and sure ground on which He intends us to stand.
Pastor, you aren’t worthy of your role because a family loves your teaching or thinks you a hero. You aren’t unworthy because someone gets mad at you. Your worth comes from being the object of Christ’s redemption.
Remember who you aren’t.
A few years ago, I came to a very hard conclusion about myself: I will never be able to pastor everybody. I’m sure that fact had been obvious to others for years, but that may have been the most traumatic application of my own self-confessed weaknesses. Even as I type these words, I really can’t explain why this is—and I really can’t understand it—but it is true nonetheless. There are people out there who will simply not be best served with me as their pastor. They aren’t necessarily bad people, and I’m not a bad man. We just aren’t the best match for each other, which is why there are a few other faithful pastors and churches in our area.
Coming to that realization need not cause insecurity, because what is true of me is also true of those other men. They too, are incapable of being everybody’s pastor. And the reason is simple. None of us is supposed to play the role of a Messianic figure to our community. That job has already been taken. So let’s stop trying to be something we aren’t to people who already see what we aren’t.
Remember Who really grows your church!
Every church goes through seasons of growth and pruning. If we are faithful, hard-working, wise, strategic, and loving, then we are doing everything that God expects of us, and the “increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6) or the “separation” (Matthew 13:24-30) is all in His timing! So if you are in a period of decline, don’t ignore what might be done to stop it. At the same time, don’t wear all of the pressure to turn the numbers around. Conversely, when a season of growth is apparent, don’t get cocky. We aren’t doing any of it; God is doing it through us.
Remember your real reward.
For too many pastors, growing a big church is the sum total of what “success” looks like, and it’s sad. If that’s all you have, then it doesn’t matter if you “succeed” or “fail,” because rather than using your ministry to build people you will spend your life using people to build your ministry. After all, that’s how we get what will give us glory most quickly. But, such an attitude is treason against our King.
The best way to set yourself free is to look beyond whatever tangible results God may grant in your service to Him, and toward those most beautiful words all of us want to hear one day: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).
Some people are going to love you. Others are going to hate your guts. Most realize you are just a servant of the Lord doing the best you can. They are right. So get off the emotional roller coaster, and remember who you are.