As a pastor, I take everything personally. I can’t seem to help it. Maybe that makes me just a whiny, sensitive baby. Maybe it makes me ultra “in-tune” with the emotions of the people I serve. Whatever the case, it is what it is and I don’t know that I can (or would) entirely change it.
In general, men tend to identify themselves with their work. It’s part of the way God wired us. Now I’ve never been good with my hands, so I’ve never been able to point to a beautifully constructed gazebo and say, “Look everybody, I made that!” I’ve never been able to tinker on an engine, get it to run smoother and say, “I fixed that!” My business is in helping people develop relationship with God, and his body, the church. While intellectually I realize that I’m supposed to look at my work as being a “jar of clay” that merely dispenses the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7), at the same time, unlike a clay jar, I have a mind and feelings and an opinion of myself.
Consequently, if my job is relationships centered on Jesus, and those relationships don’t seem as healthy (or perfect) as they could be, it’s easy to take it personally. Every time someone doesn’t come to church, it’s like being stood up for a date. Every time someone criticizes the organization, I feel criticized. Every time someone asks the church to do more, I feel more drained and exhausted. And yes, somewhat like a parent, when people misbehave, I feel betrayed and personally disrespected.
Whoa! What kind of oversensitive, drama queen are you, pastor? HaHa. I know it certainly sounds that way. I also know it sounds like the solution is just to “not take everything so personally.” I don’t, however, know that that’d make for a very good spiritual leader.
You look at the prophets of the Old Testament or the early leaders in the New Testament, and they almost all invariably seem to personally identify with people’s reactions to God and the Church. The one that actually does seem to be emotionally distant from the message he proclaims to people and unaffected by their response to it is Jonah. And the truth is that he was NOT the best evangelist, if you can even really call him that.
In my last years of school I worked as an over-the-phone bill collector. My job was to repeatedly dial up people around the country who were 3 payments behind on an overpriced product that they didn’t need and were heavily pressured into buying, oftentimes failing to read the fine print in the contract that stated they’d be charged the maximum interest that the state legally allowed. My hours in that cubicle were miserable. I heard sob story after sob story about how people’s lives were falling apart due to poor financial decisions. Regularly their frustration also turned into anger directed at me, the disembodied voice on the phone trying to take what little money they had left. I was called filthier names than you’d think imaginable, combinations of words so vulgar I was as impressed by the creative Shakespearian wordsmithery as I was offended by the rudeness. At that point, crying wasn’t an option. I really had no choice but to emotionally distance myself from the caller and simply let the individual know that if we did not receive payment in the next 30 days, they’d be facing legal action.
Interestingly, at the time, I thought that perhaps this was valuable ministry training – tough skin. And in a sense it was. But a minister’s job isn’t to heartlessly present a message. A minister has to have his heart break when someone rejects Jesus’ message and Jesus’ Church.
The conclusion I’ve stumbled upon…
The answer for a minister’s personal hurt through rejection of Christ & his Church, the local church, or himself, is not to just “have thick skin” and not care. Jesus didn’t call robots. However, the answer also is not to bend over backwards to cater to everyone and everything to make everyone happy so that you might not be rejected. That’s not only impossible, and potentially doctrinally compromising, it’s stupid. The great 21st century sociologist Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
As a pastor who sometimes feels rejection, I think the answer, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is simply to feel the rejection and appreciate Jesus’ rejection.
I get offended and hurt when people reject Jesus, the truth of his Word, his Church, or me as his messenger (even knowing how flawed I am). How much hurt must Jesus himself have felt?! I wouldn’t have reacted as he did. My blood boils much too fast.
When Jesus’ earthly parents questioned his behavior when he spent extra time at the Temple, I probably wouldn’t have been as respectful as he was (Luke 2:48-52). When the hometown jerks in Nazareth questioned how Jesus got so amazing, subtly mocking his family in the process, I probably wouldn’t have let that slide (Matt 13:53-58). When those self-righteous Pharisees tried to catch Jesus slipping up on the Sabbath, I probably would have made a point of regularly and publicly exposing them as frauds (Matt 12:1-14). When Jesus’ disciples promised to defend Jesus (Matt 26:35) and then hours later scattered from his presence like cockroaches when the lights turn on, I probably would have laid the guilt trip on heavy. As Jesus marched to his death on the cross, the women mourned and wailed. I probably would’ve shouted that if they truly loved me, they’d give me their blood, not their tears (Luke 23:27-28). And when the very brothers to whom he was sent to save cheered as he breathed his last breaths, the only thing to come from my mouth upon them probably would have been spit, not a plea to God that he might have mercy on them (Luke 23:34).
I guess that’s why he’s Jesus and I’m not.
Here’s the point: Every day Jesus could have balled his eyes out at the intended and unintended, direct and indirect rejection that he faced. Every sin that takes place in this world is a personal offense to him, a crime for which he unfairly suffered. I can’t begin to imagine what that must be like. And yet his secret seems to be that he simply loves other people so much that he’s concerned with what pain and ignorance must be motivating them to commit such atrocities even as they’re cruel to him. That kind of love for others makes you incredibly strong. That kind of strength in Christ makes us Jesus-strong, no matter who rejects you.
So, my advice for others…When faced with rejection, remember Christ’s rejection and your eternal acceptance
The experience of knowing Christ better by more fully grasping what he went through is a difficult, but valuable one. You could argue that you simply can’t even love Christ until you get some sort of appreciation for what he’s gone through. So don’t despise rejection, embrace it for what it is – an opportunity to see Jesus more clearly.
The impetus for Jesus facing such rejection head on is so that you might be eternally accepted in God’s family. Never again will you be picked last. Never again will you be broken up with. Never again will you be forgotten. Never again will you be made fun of. Never again will you be alone.
Acceptance is a beautiful thing. Our divine acceptance comes only through Jesus’ earthly rejection. So when we taste such earthly rejection, assuming our Bibles are open, we almost can’t help but love Jesus more. And sometimes, like Jesus, we’ll understand that the rejection we see is so often due to the hurt found within others, which leads us not to self-pity, but to sympathy, a much healthier emotion.
And finally, if you’re living out your faith as a Christian and actually testifying to the truth of Jesus, you will face rejection specifically for being a Christian. In a sinful world, it will happen, guaranteed. Jesus said a sign of the end of the age for Christians would be that, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13) When that happens in your life, you get the excitement of seeing prophecy fulfilled before your eyes. Cool thing. In fact, not that being a Christian is primarily about “feeling like a Christian” but the truth is that the times when I’ve most felt like a Christian are the times that someone has outright rejected me for my relationship to Jesus and his truth. More than any other times, that’s when I can see that I’m on to something here.
Allow yourself to be rejected by this world for your relationship with Jesus. And when you get rejected by this world, run to the arms that always accept you.