Do’s and Don’ts for Dealing With Hurt in Ministry
Processing the pain without burning out
Years ago, I assumed leadership of a team where there were some serious conflicts between its members. My strategy for solving those problems was to meet with team members individually. I wanted to let them know they were valued and give them the freedom to air their concerns and offer any solutions they might have.
The first person I met with was a woman who was the alleged source of many of the conflicts. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice she was. She and I discussed the issues and brainstormed solutions. Our conversation ended with prayer and hugs.
I left the meeting feeling pretty smug about my leadership skills. The following week, our executive pastor asked if we could speak privately after the staff meeting. In his office, he informed me that the woman had called him and said I took her out for coffee and “yelled at her” for the problems on the team. I attempted to explain what happened, but it was clear he wasn’t sure whom or what to believe. Our conversation ended with him suggesting in a kind way that I read some books on relationships in leadership.
That was my first, but not my last, brush with ministry hurt. Ministry hurt occurs through gossip, duplicity, ugly confrontations, broken promises or betrayals of trust.
Such hurt is a byproduct of the relational closeness that goes with ministry. That’s why pastors must learn to process it in productive ways. Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with ministry hurt:
Do recognize there are things you may not know about the situation. No one but God really knows what motivates people. Sometimes people do hurtful things out of spiritual or social ignorance, obliviousness or foolishness. Choose to believe the person who caused you pain was operating out of noble intentions.
Do find a safe person with whom you can process the hurt. The safe person can be a mature friend, counselor or another pastor. Choose someone with whom you can be honest without fear of gossip. This person should not be your spouse, co-worker or a member of your church.
Ministry hurt occurs through gossip, duplicity, ugly confrontations, broken promises or betrayals of trust.
Do choose forgiveness. Forgive so you can become the person God wants you to be. Forgiveness takes time, and it begins with prayer. Be completely honest with God about how you feel about the person and situation. Then ask God to help you let go of the bitterness, hurt and feelings of betrayal. Keep asking until the hurt completely heals and you can think about the person without feeling bitter (Matthew 7:7).
Do resolve to pray daily for those who hurt you. Pray that God will draw them closer to Him. Ask God to give them greater self-awareness and show them how their actions are affecting others. Ask Him to help them grow spiritually and experience His best for their lives. Keep offering these prayers until you feel free from any animosity toward those who hurt you (Luke 6:28).
Do own what you need to own. Self-examination is key to personal growth. Evaluate the situation, and take ownership of any mistakes you may have made in the relationship. Pray that God uses the lessons you learn to help you grow in relational wisdom.
Don’t blame God for the actions of people. God does not control anyone. People make choices. God can and will help you process the pain you have experienced, but you must be willing to trust He is working on your behalf.
Don’t avoid meaningful relationships with people outside of ministry. Pastors need people with whom they can be real. One of the wisest things I ever did was build a support system of intelligent, professional women who love Jesus but do not work in professional ministry or attend my church. These relationships give me freedom to be me and share my deepest feelings concerning people and situations I encounter in ministry. Every pastor needs at least one good friend who is not a minister.
Don’t forget Jesus experienced ministry hurt too. Jesus was the wisest, most effective leader ever. He was also betrayed by a man in whom He spent three years of His life personally investing (Matthew 27:3). Because ministry involves people, ministry pain is unavoidable. However, the pain can make us more like Jesus if we handle it appropriately.
It is our responsibility as leaders to deal with hurt in a way that enables us to lead more effectively. We do so by confronting our feelings and recognizing it is impossible to lead well out of a place of hurt and distrust.
When we find constructive ways to process hurt, we can model healthy relationship management for our families and staff, avoid burnout, and go the distance in ministry.