And sometimes my heart hurts with the grief caused when Christians attack Christians, usually claiming some righteous cause. Jesus warned us about false church leaders who would come "as wolves in sheep's clothing," aggressive, ripping the church to pieces. Anyone who's served in ministry has seen such things.
I think back to places we've served, and I hear of churches suffering right now, and I wonder: how should ministry people respond when this is happening? I confess -- in the past Adam and I have not always responded in the best way. We were young, immature, and it was not in our natures to stand by and watch someone do damage to the ministry we loved, and say nothing, do nothing.
But if you intervene, you can make the conflict much worse. You can quickly become a wolf yourself unintentionally. You can think you're helping when you're damaging the church more. Soon, people you thought supported you are turning on you, everyone is choosing sides, and a disastrous blow-up is on the horizon.
We've seen this happen before too.
Now we are of the opinion that prayer is in order in such situations, and patience, and forgiveness, and long-suffering, and perseverance. I'll be honest: that is so much harder to do than lashing out and fighting back. Oh how wearying and burdensome it is on the soul to simply wait and cry out to God for help and leave it to Him!
It's important to take the long view. We think we're certain about the right-and-wrong of a situation. We are quick to apply labels to people. We are instantaneous in applying blame. We feel anguish when God does not vindicate us now, right now. I write this for my ministry friends out there who are suffering, really suffering, and doing it silently. Wait patiently on the Lord. Pour out your heart to Him. Practice daily forgiveness and confess your sins. And continue to do the tasks of ministry that are yours to do -- as our precious Elisabeth Elliot told us, do the next thing. How valuable that advice is!
Next Sunday when you look at your pastor in his pulpit, consider how lonely his position is. He has few friends in whom he can truly confide. He may be suffering criticism and attack. He may be suffering temptations, depression, anxiety, sadness. Encourage him. Support him. Tell him you appreciate his work. Can you imagine how crushing it would be to hear criticism from every member of a congregation? Yet each person sitting in a pew can feel it's his duty to critique. Love your pastor and encourage him to stay, to feel welcomed, to be ministered to. He is constantly under Satan's attack. Make sure you are not one of the arrows attacking him.
Each of us should long for peace in our churches. Pray for that peace and be part of it. Peace is rarely achieved by people leaving, by anger and temper, by attacks and offenses. Peace comes when each of us submits humbly to others in prayer and forgiveness. I say this particularly for other pastors and their wives who are experiencing these sorrows. May these words help or comfort as you persevere.