Saturday morning, I was up before everyone else. While humming in the kitchen, I furiously whipped up pancake batter for the dozen students from a nearby Bible school who were spending the weekend with us. They were helping us remodel our 100-year-old church building. My four-year-old was tugging on my shirt and the frying pan was sizzling, while I wondered if this project would ever be finished. Now, looking back, I remember those times fondly. The friendships we forged and the life experiences of those days were exciting and exhausting all at the same time. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of building projects in my life.
It seems like life is full of building, remodeling, and tearing down, but for those in ministry, it is even more so. Through the years, we worked on several church buildings, the homes of our parishioners, and our own homes, but the greatest building projects were the people we loved. Investing our lives into the lives of others, we built them up, helped tear down old destructive foundations in order to build new. We shored up their childlike faith and honored those whose godly lives were well established in theirs.
It’s no surprise that when people left our church, the loss was painful at best and excruciating at worst. Sunday mornings were the worst. Looking out at the empty seats where they used to sit was heart breaking. Sometimes I dreaded Sunday mornings where I would put on my smiling face, play the piano with all the enthusiasm I could muster and invest myself once again in the ones who were there, trying hard not to dwell on those who weren’t. I tried desperately not to take it personally, but it was hard. Those who left were my kids, my family. The ones who ate at my table, whose kids played with my son. They were the ones I had cried with and rejoiced with, and now they were gone.
I had to remind myself of the great prophet Samuel when the people of God expressed their desire for a king. Broken and dejected, Samuel cried out to God. He was hurt. He had led them for years. Had he done anything wrong? Why weren’t they happy the way things had been? God’s answer put everything into perspective. “They haven’t rejected you, Samuel. They have rejected me.”
1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” ESV
Of course, not everyone who leaves a church is in rebellion to God, or even rejecting the pastor, and yet the pain the pastor and his wife feel is still the same. We as ministry people have to learn that the church doesn’t grow because of our efforts of selfless service, nor is it torn down by our failures. It is God who builds his church and we are the caretakers of the family God gives us. And we must realize that in all families, some go off on adventures, moving on for various reasons, but others stay and so must we. We stay and build, remodel and refresh. We fight the good fight for those who choose to stay, knowing that the battle is more about God and his kingdom than it is about us.
1 Timothy 6:11-12 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Perhaps you have been hurt, grieving for those you have lost. In some ways, it is like a death and the grief lingers long. Dear friend, when ministry hurts, run to the Lord.
Years ago, Twila Paris wrote a song called, “The Warrior Is a Child.” The words of the chorus have rung loudly in my spirit throughout my life.
“They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child.”
Remember who you are. You are God’s child and he wipes away your tears. He holds you when you feel broken and He is always there for you. Keep doing what God called you to do. Feed his sheep and HE will build his church!