The hardest part of pastoral ministry is not the work. It’s not that things take longer than you’d think, or that success is hard to measure. The hardest part of ministry is relational pain.
“The most difficult thing I have found in Christian ministry is opposition from people I thought were friends, or at least colleagues, fellow-workers,” says N.T. Wright. Kevin Miller of Leadership Journal writes:
If there were a binding contract to sign before entering ministry, the fine print would include: “The undersigned acknowledges that the pastoral ministry may be hazardous and subject the undersigned to expressions of animosity, including but not limited to calumny, slander, misrepresentation, and betrayal.”
I don’t think there’s a pastor around who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is the very stuff of ministry.
Take the Apostle Paul. Near the end of his ministry, and when he needed his friends the most, his friends let him down. “All who are in Asia turned away from me…” (2 Timothy 1:15). That “all” had names: Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Demas, and more. Every betrayal has names.
Without minimizing the pain, Paul was able to write:
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17-18)
In the middle of his pain, Paul sensed God’s presence. He felt God’s strengthening. He still held on to the mission that God had given him. Tim Keller notices that the phrase “the Lord…strengthened me” is a phrase that usually means to nurse and bind up wounds. God doesn’t just stand by and watch. He cares for us and heals us.
The most difficult thing in Christian ministry is relational. Count on it. You’re in good company, and you serve someone who stands by you, and is really good at binding up wounds.