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"Once was enough.
Next time I would need to be ready for this deacon … or so I thought."

by Dr. Richard Burton

The actual issue in play may have absolutely nothing to do with the pastor or anything that has happened under their leadership. We should listen more and react less; listening can disarm a person since what they are wanting in the first place is to be heard.
“You’re not getting it!” the irate board member stated emphatically across my desk with a raised voice. “No!” I shot right back. “You are the one not getting it. This was discussed at our meeting. The board’s decision stands and we are not changing it now”… and so the tense exchange continued.

I felt pretty good about my response that morning, especially since the encounter was totally unexpected. This deacon, in contrast, awoke that Sunday morning intending to come after me and ambush me about a budget item just before service started. He chose to do so for one reason: he could get away with it. Getting to me and making his point were all that mattered to him that morning.

Terrible Timing
Half an hour before morning service is not the time for a budget discussion— particularly not with a board member who was not even the treasurer. This individual, however, knew he could find me in my office and challenge me regardless of what it would do to my personal spirit or disposition just before leading the morning service.

Following the unpleasant exchange, and without any resolution, the angry board member disappeared into the sanctuary to sit with his wife, and eventually to listen to me preach. During the sermon he pretended to be enjoying the message, and I pretended to enjoy preaching it; everyone else in the room was oblivious as to what had happened a few minutes earlier. The tension continued for a few weeks and was eventually resolved, but sadly the damage was already done. This story is a snapshot—a mild reflection—of so many ghastly exchanges that occur among pastors, church staffs, board members and other church leaders.

Unity and Division
The men and women serving in churches can become wounded easily when a surprise dispute comes along, when another’s personal insecurity gets in the way of progress, or when someone’s desire to maintain control is threatened. Fingers begin to be pointed, voices can be raised, blame is placed and people take sides. Is this happening everywhere all the time? No. Does it happen? Yes … much more often than any of us want to admit. This is far from the harmony we see in the early church.

Once unified, the early church exploded with growth and miracles. People will ask, “Where is the numerical growth in our church?” or “Where are the miracles?” or “Is there nobody speaking out with the vocal gifts anymore?” I ask: Is it that difficult to figure out why these traits of Spirit-empowered church life are not evident? God’s desire is to unite through the power of the Holy Spirit. The devil’s strategy is to divide by utilizing the power of the flesh with the intent of debilitating churches and their leaders. So-called Spirit-led leaders, like the Sunday morning board member, play right into the enemy’s hand by coming at the pastor with an axe to grind at the worst possible moment.

However, we are wise to ask, Where are these culprits coming from? Are they chronic church complainers? Have they a history of not liking pastors? When we consider the source of the criticism, we can often sleep better at night. Though an ambush is always unfair, it may be inevitable with some parishioners. Someone once said “People who are hurting, hurt others.” The actual issue in play may have absolutely nothing to do with the pastor or anything that has happened under their leadership. We should listen more and react less; listening can disarm a person since what they are wanting in the first place is to be heard.

When Ministry Hurts
The theme of this issue is When Ministry Hurts. It begs me to ask: if it is not hurting us to some extent, is it really ministry? When pastors are being wounded, is it not to be expected in the natural course of duty? When we are advancing the light of God into the darkness of this world, are we not then prime targets for an ambush or worse? What about preaching unpopular sermons? Or speaking the things that need to be said, yet nobody else will say them? How about standing up for righteousness? Is that not when we find ourselves with the biggest target painted on our backs? Is this not what Jesus was called to do, and did He not have a target on His back? You know He did. And most of His enemies had great aim.

Although Jesus was greeted with joyful shouts of “Hosanna!” as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was only a matter of days until He heard many of the same voices crying out, “Crucify him!” The pattern is similar for pastors. It can be the same group of church leaders who say, “Congratulations on the great vote, pastor! When can you start?” who will some time later spew out the most hurtful barrage of words, carry personal and selfish agendas into meetings, and align themselves with others who become subversive towards pastoral leadership—often with destructive results.

Crucifixions Are From Above
In his book Exquisite Agony, Gene Edwards states that crucifixions are from God and challenges the reader to embrace them.1 If you have faced an ambush which led to a crucifixion, then its divine purposes include destroying the flesh which needs to be dealt with in your life. By embracing those who have hurt you—as tough as it is—your enemies will dwindle, and bitter memories will diminish. Paul wrote the Ephesians and made clear that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.2 Again we must keep in mind that the enemy is out to disrupt and divide; responding to this evil is part of our ministry in our efforts to advance the kingdom.

Author Gary McIntosh writes, “Our worth as God’s people results from our position in Christ rather than our condition on earth.”3 Our calling should propel us onward through pointed criticisms, conflicts and ambushes of many kinds. Our position as children of God cannot be removed, and in this we have our identity—not in the conclusions of others.

As you read this edition, you may find yourself embroiled in some painful predicament involving people who call you pastor and claim they love you or with one whom you call pastor. Embracing the circumstances might be your only response. Let the situation be filled with love and forgiveness. It is in that moment we can discover healing as wounded leaders. What value is there in being ready for the next time? The divine plan for these crucifixions comes from above. It is the same sovereign plan God had to send Jesus to the cross that also crucifies us. Think about it: Jesus faced His crucifixion and He faces ours with us. There is no better way to look toward the battles of ministry than alongside the One who will guide us to ultimate victory.

1 Gene Edwards, Exquisite Agony (Jacksonville, FL: SeedSowers Christian Books Publishing, 1994), 39.2 Ephesians 6:123 Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 206
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DR. RICHARD BURTON—At the time of publication, Dr. Burton was Lead Pastor, Kitchener Gospel Temple.
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