A pastoral letter to a fellow-pastor in pain!
From my hotel bathroom floor!
Dear Pastor Tim,
Over the last few days, your very good friend Phil has been sharing with me the struggles and conflicts you’ve been experiencing in your church. I’ve woken up very early this morning with a strong burden on my heart to pen a few lines of counsel for a beloved fellow-pastor. (I hope my scribble will be somewhat intelligible to you. I’m writing sitting on the hard, cold floor of our hotel bathroom, trying not to disturb my wife’s sleep!)
By way of introduction, let me tell you a little about ourselves. Our family spent 13 years serving Christ in different churches and Christian training colleges in Indonesia. Then in 1980 I received a call to serve as pastor of a Baptist congregation in Sydney. However, I only pastored this church for 2 ¼ years. These were among the most painful, yet the most growing years of my entire spiritual journey and ministry.
It’s not necessary for me to elaborate on what happened and why. However, I can see from what Phil has shared with me concerning your difficulties, there are a lot of similarities between your present situation and the situation I encountered in my church – though I hasten to say, the majority in our church were very supportive and receptive to our ministries. Isn’t it true that it usually takes only a handful of disgruntled believers to unsettle the majority in a church?
Brother Tim, I can truly identify with your incredible pain, emotional stress and suffering. Yet I can also testify to God’s unfailing goodness and grace. Not only did He lead us through those months of deep pain and heartache – I know, without His strength and the prayers of God’s people, I couldn’t have survived – but after it was all over, He blessed us with an exhilarating new opportunity in Christian ministry – serving a new fellowship of believers whom we had the great privilege to lead for five years before moving on to the cross-cultural ministries in which we are presently involved.
Before sharing the thoughts I believe God has placed on my heart for your encouragement, let me make one other comment. Brother Tim, believe me – I am deeply thankful to God for all He taught me through those few years of pain in the pastoral ministry. But I am also aware of some of my personal weaknesses. Far be it from me to write as if I never failed God and the people I served during those hard times, or that I always passed those tests with flying colors! So please read the following words as the jottings of a very imperfect brother in Christ.
- You are involved in intense spiritual warfare. Recognize what is really happening in the spiritual realm. Your adversaries are sadly unaware of what they are doing and for whom they are working. So fight, fight, fight through persisting in prayer. Stand firm. Don’t let the enemy’s accusations coming through mouths of these who oppose you enter your spirit. You are not a failure as Satan would have you think. You will have for sure made mistakes, but these aren’t the real cause or root problem.
- Know who you are – a dearly loved servant of God who is incredibly precious to your Master and Shepherd. He will defend you against all the enemy’s vicious attacks. Keep reminding yourself day after day that He has indeed called you into His ministry, and His calling is irrevocable. Plant your feet firmly on the rock of being called “according to the will of God”.
- Determine in your heart not to go on a campaign against your opponents. Let God vindicate you, His servant. And He will – though it may not happen immediately.
- Hold no bitterness in your heart. You may struggle to forgive those who seem to be wrecking such havoc in the church of God. But, it is imperative that you forgive them speedily for any actions or words that they have leveled against you personally. Holding bitterness in your heart, as the Scripture says, is just as destructive as poison in your body.
- Be on your guard against the temptation to talk about your problems with others. Obviously, you will need close “encouragers”. But, recognize the sinfulness of your heart – how it is so natural at a time like this to look for human support in a casual way – which is just looking for self-pity. You can waste hours talking with people about the problems. That time can be more profitably spent alone with God. Determine in your heart not to talk much, especially when people ask you questions motivated by a desire to find out the behind-the-scenes gossip. That also is destructive. The more words you talk, the more will be open to misunderstanding and the more rumors and distorted messages will run down the church grapevines! It’s wisdom at a time like this to speak little.
- Don’t try to appease people. Your opponents will never be satisfied with any of your concessions. Reject any compromise of your primary convictions. Stand firm, unmoved, knowing that your convictions rooted in the Scriptures won’t be acceptable to some who are more driven by human or carnal desires than spiritual or biblical issues.
- Learn to rejoice in the privilege that Christ is giving you to share in His sufferings. It is indeed a great honor. You are learning just a little about the sufferings Christ experienced during His three years of conflict with the Jewish religious leaders.
- Don’t look upon these moments as moments that are wasted in your ministry. You are being used now in ways you can’t ever imagine. For example, believers are watching your life, your responses, your ways of dealing with rejection etc., and are learning how they can themselves walk through such dark tunnels. You are also growing in Christ, growing closer to Him in ways that do not happen when everything is running smoothly. Suffering is all a part of God’s plan for our spiritual progress. Accept this fact, open your heart up fully to all that God wants you to learn through this time, and you will be a changed man, of great worth in God’s hands – refined, strengthened through these hours of sorrow.
- Encourage your heart daily in the Lord and in His precious Word. His promises to you will help strengthen your heart, giving you a resolve to remain true to Him and your calling.
- Don’t worry about the future – for yourself, your family, the church you have been pastoring. Rather entrust them all into God’s mighty hands. He is able to save, and He will. He will open wonderful new doors of ministry before you. He will bring your wife and children through also as you commit them into His care and speak words of faith before them. Remember also that His people are ultimately His responsibility as true Shepherd. They are going through a time of refining and sifting also. Pray them through this time. God is faithful. He will not abandon His true flock.
You are deeply loved, dear brother Tim. For that reason, our Lord Jesus came into the world to show you the full extent of His love.
Be assured of my continuing prayers for you and your precious family. I’ll be praying especially that amid the uncertainties of your present situation, you will find many reasons to hope in Christ through your meditations upon the Christmas message – the Good News of Jesus our Saviour, our Shepherd and our King coming into this dark world filled with chaos and pathos so that He might live within us by His Spirit. Rejoice then, my dear brother Tim, in the certainty that our Lord Jesus is with you, and therefore, you have nothing to fear but everything to hope for in the coming new year.
Your fellow-servant in His majesty’s service,