Assault from Nearby

KnifeInHeartMedWe were conducting a medical and evangelistic mission in Mexico with our daughter, her husband and their Fishers of Men ministry. Our daughter Julie asked the host pastor’s wife how she could best pray for her. They pastor a small church of about fifteen adults in a large town dominated by the Catholic Church. One needs to remember that the Catholic Church in Mexico has lingering and strong influences of the pagan beliefs that were a part of the culture long before the Catholic Church evangelized the country. For this, and I suspect other hard to define reasons, the Catholic Church is very antagonistic toward evangelical protestantism which has, in some cases, resulted in violence against evangelical Christians.

Given this spiritual environment you would expect the pastor’s wife to suggest that this conflict was her and her husband’s greatest challenge. Not so. She asked for prayer concerning the discord within their small church, especially for the critical attitudes people had toward her husband and his ministry.

Just a couple of weeks earlier I was in communication with a young pastor who I know well. I see no red lights in his ministry. He’s doing a great job but is facing harsh criticism by a couple of key leaders. These leaders are not handling their grievances in a way that honors the pastor they themselves believed just a couple of years ago God had called to be their pastor and the pastor of their church.

It may shock many to know the number one reason missionaries leave the mission field. It’s not because of conflict with local authorities, antagonism from other religious groups, cultural differences or inclement weather conditions. The number one reason missionaries leave the mission field is conflict with other missionaries!

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised; Jesus’ arrest and execution were orchestrated by the religious establishment, leaders of His own religion, the Jewish faith. He was the Messiah of the Jews, and it was the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish ruling body, that manipulated the Romans to have Him executed!

Then, too, remember David’s lament. “Even my close friend, someone I trust, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” (Psalm 41:9)

This blog is all about the pastor’s heart, and it is a heart often pierced and even broken by the very people we pastors are called to serve! What are we to make of this? What are we to do?

I don’t want to disappoint, but I don’t have a magic cure to offer. If I did, I’d set up my own consulting firm and charge an exorbitant price for you to attend my conference! Just kidding – about the consulting, exorbitant price and conference part – not about my lack of a magic cure.

Reflecting on my thirty-nine plus years at the church I served I can recall time and time again when I was deeply hurt by people in the church. I believe I survived it primarily because I had a sense of a profound call from God to be their pastor. I can remember one night, after a brutal congregational meeting in which two leaders took turns with the wireless hand held microphone and questioned my ability to lead. I lay in bed that night, on my back, in the dark, my wife lying beside me. I raised my arm up toward the ceiling, formed a fist, shook it and nearly hollered out between clenched teeth, “I will not quit.” It was, in retrospect, one of the shortest and most bizarre prayers I’ve ever prayed!

I know we can question our call when things get tough, but if our questioning is prompted primarily by complaints or criticisms, then we have good reason to question our questioning of our call! It seems to me if God wants to steer us in a new direction that He will speak through angels and not demons. If, after some quiet, reflective, prayerful soul-searching one feels a ministry in a certain place is no longer effective and no longer God’s plan, then so be it. I don’t think, however, we can hear that still small voice of the Lord in the high decibels criticism coming from our detractors. Our call should always trump criticism.

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