Thinking Out Loud

June 22, 2017

Christian Leaders Have Feelings, Too

Have you ever received a letter or an email where you could acutely feel the pain of the person writing? It happened to me about a week ago, and not for the usual reasons that people experience hurt. This person had unexpectedly come out on the wrong side of a business dealing some other Christians. Though the letter wasn’t written particularly to evoke an emotional response, but it really affected me and has stayed with me throughout the week.

Interestingly, if I am to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like this person. Circumstances necessitate a relationship that would not exist otherwise. Really, that’s how it is in the body of Christ. Look around your church on Sunday morning and ask yourself how likely you would otherwise be to interact with this set of people. Would you have another context to make their acquaintance? Would the ones you count as friends have ended up so through some other means?

Meanwhile, all’s fair in love and business, right? Tough luck. Easy come, easy go.

Ruminating on this continually however, I’ve been reminded that people in Christian leadership are not immune to hurt and pain. Years ago I was at a crossroads where I could have gone into pastoral ministry. “Don’t do it;” a mentor advised; “You’re not thick-skinned enough.”

But who is thick-skinned enough? We’re human. We bleed. Electing to choose a ministry that must be, by definition, compassionate means that pastors may be more sensitive than many of us. We all have different degrees of sensitivity, but I think pastors bear the biggest brunt of this. They are particularly vulnerable on Sundays, especially right after the sermon. If you want to bring someone down a notch or two, that’s the perfect time. As an aspiring Bible teacher, I had just finished a Sunday morning sermon at a Christian conference center that was transitioning into a summer camp; so adults from offsite were still in the habit of driving there for services. I don’t remember the topic, but I felt it had gone reasonably well until the director called me into his office immediately after.

“You really think you’re hot stuff, don’t you?”

I stood there not quite sure how to respond. It turned out later that there was a enormous political power struggle going on in this organization, and he didn’t want me feeling in any way empowered.  The rest of that conversation is a bit of a blur.

Christian leaders have feelings. Some no doubt pursue ministry not realizing the emotional price they will have to pay. This undoubtedly leads to the rather high attrition rate in this profession. But heads of missions, parachurch organizations and other Christian charities could be included in this, as well as lay-leaders who may have a role in the life the church which is quite a contrast to their primary vocation.

It’s important for the rest of us to bear that in mind.

Don’t cause hurt. If you need to confront an individual, do it lovingly. If you think something needs to be done differently, make a suggestion, not an order. If you feel someone is going astray, scripture tells us to lead them gently back.

Watch for leaders who are hurting. They’re all around you. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, you can be a pastor’s pastor. They need to talk, too. Remember them in prayer.

Rebuke the person who causes hurt. If you know someone who loves to stir the pot, who loves to be ‘Brother Sandpaper,’ pull them aside and remind them that the Christian leader in question is human just like them.

Bear your own hurts well. If you’ve continued reading this far, perhaps you have some leadership role in the church and need to expect at sometime to have to manage the emotions which arise when the inevitable attack happens, because it probably will.

Make love your rule of life.

 

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