Having recently retired from the pastoral ministry I find it rather easy to compile pastoral lists; a list of funny stories, a list of ugly congregational meetings, a list of wedding snafus, and so on. Another such list is that of disappointments, plans that didn’t turn out the way I thought they would, the way I believed God wanted them to turn out.
There were people into whom I poured my life who left our church to pursue “God’s call” to go elsewhere. Their motives, it seemed in my humble opinion, were based more on running from their anger and the resulting conflict with fellow parishioners or with me rather than a running after the call of the Lord.
There were meetings that were planned, but as it turned out very few planned on attending the meetings. You try not to get caught up in the numbers game, but you do need at least a few people if anything’s going to happen at a meeting you’ve called.
I never expected to be the pastor of a mega church, but I’ll have to admit I thought we’d grow more than we did. In fact, the weekly attendance had slowly gone down the last few years of my ministry. This was in spite of the fact that, by my own estimation and that of church leaders, we were growing in Christ and had a clearer awareness of what the church should be.
Probably one of the biggest disappointments was spending over twelve years planning to build a new facility that never was built. We acquired a piece of ground, had countless meetings, carried out two major fund raising campaigns, went through several drafts of architectural plans, and had a ground breaking ceremony. The church is now in the process of selling the land (which, for the record, I believe is God’s will for the church to do). Over a quarter of my ministry involved this process of seeking to build a new facility better able to be the home for carrying out the Lord’s work, but it was not to be.
Life in general, but pastoral ministry in particular, has its disappointments. How are we to view these disappointments?
I’m reminded of the times Jesus was disappointed in people. He healed ten lepers but was disappointed when only one returned to give thanks. He was disappointed that His disciples were with Him a considerable length of time and still didn’t get some basic principles He had been teaching them. If it was OK for Jesus to be disappointed in people then we’re in good company when it happens to us! It’s part of the experience of ministering to and with people.
Then too, I have to remind myself that as much as I’m disappointed in others I also am sometimes a disappointment to others. Jesus’ teaching of the speck and the plank in the eye is a good one to remember at this point.
But that leaves those times when I’ve been disappointed, sometimes deeply so, that things did not work out as I thought they should. John Koessler wrote a book titled The Surprising Grace of Disappointment. I had never thought about applying God’s grace to my disappointment before reading John’s book.
When reflecting on some of my disappointments I wonder if I did all I could, or if I even took the right course of action. Was my timing off? Did I misread God’s will for me or for the church? Did I listen to bad advice from others or fail to take seriously the good advice of others? To such questions my honest answer is usually, “I don’t know.” Hindsight is not 20/20 in most of these cases.
There’s an incident in the ministry of Jesus and His disciples that comes to mind as I grapple with my disappointments. Jesus was sending His disciples out to do ministry, and He warned them that there would be times when they wouldn’t get the results they wanted, that people would not respond to the Good News they tried to share. “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11) I think what Jesus was trying to tell them is that they would be disappointed. His advice to them? Shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next village. In other words, let it go!
I believe Jesus’ words of advice to the original proclaimers of His Good News are there for those of us who proclaim His Word today too. We too are given the advice to shake the dust from our feet and move on. Yes, the grace of God is there for me to receive when I’m disappointed. I can hear Him whisper to me in His gracious way, “Let it go.”