FIRST-PERSON: Don't quit
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Think of this as a letter to anyone in the ministry who is so stressed out, discouraged, frustrated or even angry that they are considering jumping ship, throwing in the towel or any other metaphor that means quitting.
Don't quit, friend.
When you find yourself working in a place where God sent you and doing the work which God gave you, everything else is secondary.
The fact that the church keeps changing your job description and expecting more and more from you is just a fact of life.
The fact that the pastor you work for has become a tyrant is interesting, but not much more than that.
The fact that your minister of X, Y or Z is siding with a disgruntled member against you may be unfortunate, but it's just part of local church leadership.
The fact that the personnel committee is making ever-increasing demands on you while curtailing the little support you were receiving is of concern, yes, but it's not determinative.
If Sister Dee Structive is stirring up gossip about you and trying to undermine your ministry, it just makes your service for the Lord all the sweeter.
When the people you look to most for support and encouragement in ministry turn against you and you find yourself all alone out there on the stage, you are about to do your best work for the Lord.
Don't blow this now, child of God.
When the personnel committee informs you that your pay has been cut and your benefits eliminated altogether, praise the Lord.
When the pastor tells you your off day has been canceled and your hours stretched to 24/7 for the rest of the year, thank him and praise the Lord.
When they take away your secretarial help and eliminate your mileage repayment and increase your workload to the breaking point, look up, friend.
You are about to find out what God can do in impossible situations.
Here are five truths I hope you will etch in stone and take to the (celestial) bank with you:
1) Anyone can serve the Lord where ministry is what you expected, supporters are coming out of the woodwork, your supervisor is terrific, the pay is good, the benefits are adequate, and you are overwhelmed with appreciation. (If you find that job, see if they need a retired pastor on the staff!)
2) Only truly God-called men and women of faith can take a licking -- the kind only an unthinking pastor, staff member or church committee can dish out -- and hand it to the Lord as an offering of righteousness, and then "rise up and re-enter the city" (Acts 14:20). Go into work the next day as though nothing had changed, and through Christ, give it your best.
3) The more your visible support disappears and the more harsh the circumstances in which you labor, the purer your service for the Lord becomes. "When you do what is right and suffer for it and you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God" (1 Peter 2:20).
4) You are now going to learn whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not. You are now going to inherit the legacy of Paul and Silas who, after being severely beaten and their wounds left untreated, were locked into the Philippian jail and abandoned, but who "were praying and singing hymns of praise to God" (Acts 16:25). Paul and Silas did not waste time asking, "O God, where are You? Why have You allowed this to happen? All we were doing was blessing these people and look how they treated us!" They did not worship God in those intolerable conditions because life was good or they felt like it. They were demonstrating a faith that reflects an overwhelming confidence in Jesus Christ.
5) The day will come when you will look back at this miserable period in your ministry as the best service you ever rendered. Remember you heard it here, friend.
"Isn't this pie-in-the-sky thinking?"
It's solid New Testament Christianity. Read Matthew 10:16-42 again and again until the lessons sink in. (Quick note: 10:5-15 are temporary, one-time-only instructions for the Lord's servants about to leave on their first ministry trip, but 10:16-42 are for all of us, for all time.)
"I knew the world would treat us this way. But I never expected it from God's people."
Okay, child of God. Time to grow up. It's all through the Bible. Where have you been? Sorry for the barbs; just trying to make a point here. Remember, the Lord was betrayed by one of His own disciples. And Jesus said the servant is no better than the master.
"If the pastor is the devil in the flesh, so to speak, shouldn't we get out of that church?"
This is rarely the case. I suspect you're just angry for what he did to you or the harshness with which he did it. Lighten up. Go back to Luke 6:27-31 and see what the Lord told us to do to the very people who are making life so miserable for us: do good to them, bless them, pray for them and give to them.
Make that fourfold bit of instruction -- do good, bless, pray, give -- your plan of operation for whoever is coming down so hard on you. Smile, get to work on time, give it your best, and do all these things in the power of the Lord and for His glory, just because He told you to do it!
"I always thought persecution was people trying to kill you for serving Jesus. I just was not looking for it from those wonderful people who brought me to this church in the first place."
Persecution and suffering come in all shapes and sizes and varieties, my friend. Whether it fits the classic textbook definition or not is not your problem. Your problem is what to do now.
Do not "get in the flesh," except when you are at home and the doors are locked and no one can hear you. Remember the psalmist said, "I waited on the Lord and He heard my cries." I like that. I was waiting for Him, but crying at the same time.
Get on your knees. Spend a lot of time with Him and in His Word. Listen for the voice of the Spirit. Pray prayers of faith, the kind that believes Jesus Christ has not abandoned you but is very much on the job and has something in mind in this situation. Then, get up and go do your job.
As always, make sure the Lord sent you there and that you are doing the work He gave you to do. Once you settle that, go forward, even when the conditions seem intolerable.
Remember: you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. The fellow who was beaten and thrown into jail and left to rot, but who prayed and sang at midnight, is the one who first said that. Interestingly, those words are found in his letter to believers in that very city (Philippi) where he had experienced those things.
Never forget that compared to the suffering some of the Lord's servants have to endure throughout the world, yours is a light thing. This does not mean your situation is unimportant, only that you might want to keep it in perspective.
You are about to experience God in ways you never have before. You can thank me in heaven. (Smiley-face goes here.)
Joe McKeever, on the Web at www.joemckeever.com, is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter.