One of the things that comes up from time to time in pastoral ministry is frustration with people. This is especially true when we have put a lot of time, thought, prayer and effort into something and no one rocks up to it or people are late or drop the ball etc.
One of the things that I want to do when this happens is challenge the person who I am frustrated with. I want to say things to them about letting the team down and not being committed enough. Now these things may be true, the person we are frustrated with might not be committed enough and they may be letting the team down. But will having this conversation achieve what you and I want it to achieve?
I have been reading a book called Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson who was a coach in the NBA who coached guys like Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe Bryant. He tells a story where Jordan is getting frustrated with the players on his team because they were letting the team down and they weren’t being committed enough. In true Jordan fashion he would try harder showing them what he expected of them and willing them to do it. He would scowl at them and tell them what they were doing wrong. But it wasn’t working.
A trainer named George Mumford said this to Jordan:“It’s all about being present and taking responsibility for how you relate to yourself and others,” says George. “And that means being willing to adjust so that you can meet people where they are. Instead of expecting them to be somewhere else and getting angry and trying to will them to that place, you try to meet them where they are and lead them where you want them to go.”
When I read this quote I had a aha moment because I realised I expect the people whom I am frustrated with to be where I think they should be, I get angry and I try to will them to be where I think the should be instead of trying to meet them where they are at and lead them slowly where they should be.
When I am frustrated with people I forget two things:
1. How patient and gracious God is with me
2. That ministry is measured in years and decades and not days and weeks.
Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
There are four things from this passage that guard against frustration in ministry.
Firstly, when we preach. We preach in season and out of season. We preach when things are going great and when things aren’t. We preach when fruit is coming and when it isn’t. There are going to be times of fruitfulness in ministry and times where we will see hardly any fruit. This is to be expected but we preach knowing that God gives the growth.
Secondly, we are to preach with great patience. We preach knowing that spiritual growth takes place over long periods of time and therefore we don’t get frustrated if we don’t see instant spiritual results. Ministry is not an instant thing. In ministry we see growth not over days and weeks but over years and decades. Therefore we know God is working if we are proclaiming his word and so we are not frustrated but patient.
Thirdly, we see the tragedy of people turning away from the truth. This passage reminds us that people want to believe things other than the gospel so when we are ministering to people and they are turning away from the gospel we are not surprised but we carefully and lovingly instruct and remind them of the gospel over many conversations hoping to win them back to the gospel and sound doctrine.
Fourth, Paul is real about ministry. He says we endure hardship. The hardship we endure is not through long hours, although there may be long hours. Nor it is from tiring work, although the work is tiring. I think the main hardship in ministry is a broken heart. We see people come close to Jesus and reject him, we see people fall away, we see people do stupid things, we get hurt by people, people don’t grow like we want them to. All these, and many more, break our hearts. But Paul says we endure through this. How can we endure though all this? We endure through all this not because we are strong and tough but it is God who is strong for us. He is the one who energizes us and gives us strength. He is the one who reminds us that he loves us no matter how great or how poorly our ministries are doing. We endure hardship because he first endured the cross for us.
Brothers and sisters, ministry is tough and hard work and we need to remember that the course is long and the cost sometimes is high but the reward is eternal! So let us not get frustrated. Let us love the people that God has given us to lead and let us encourage them in the gospel and wait for God to give the growth.
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