Frustration can lead to a compelling ministry

No ministry is easy. Let’s just get that said right up front. I’m not saying every ministry role is equally difficult – I do suspect there are harder places to be than others – but none of them are easy. And what is hard in one place won’t be hard in another. For all the talk of hard places, evangelism is a doddle round by us. Stick me in a middle class community where everybody is basically alright and doesn’t want to give you the time of day though, honestly, that’s harder than anything we’re doing. Without doubt. If you’re seeing conversions in a middle class community, I was going to say I don’t know how you do it, but of course, we all know you didn’t – it was the Spirit – but you know what I’m saying.

Anyway, this isn’t about whose ministry is hard or easy. All of them are hard in different ways. In their being hard, there are deep frustrations. I do not know anybody in pastoral ministry of any sort, in any place, who does not experience frustration. It is the unfortunate nature of people facing roles. People have a tendency to be difficult at times. Or at least, we perceive they are difficult even if they don’t mean to be.

The only way to guarantee a frustration free experience is to essentially just have a church comprising of you and your family. Though, if it’s anything like mine, it won’t take that long before the kids get on your wick. Then your wife will make a helpful suggestion that winds you up. And how much ministry are you actually going to get done with you, your wife a couple of toddlers and perhaps your dog? Even your little family church is going to frustrate you.

Perhaps you recognise that’s silly. But you could make yourself sole pastor. Make yourself head honcho with no elders or difficult members voting things down that you want to happen. I have known a number of men who didn’t want that setup, but were sadly lumped with it because there were no people able to be made elders at the time, and they experienced just as many frustrations in that scenario as those who have plural elderships and active church members meetings. The truth is, ministry is frustrating. If you want a frustration free experience, the only way to achieve it is to avoid ministry altogether. Perhaps even avoid the church altogether. Which, if you’re a genuine believer who takes the Bible seriously, would not find that very satisfying and might discover it is a bit… well, frustrating.

But there does seem to be something in our psyche that doesn’t expect ministry to be as frustrating as it is. We either think frustrations will come, but they will be short-lived, or we think that the frustrations will be particularly limited. Things will only be so frustrating. But the fact is that Jesus does not guarantee us that sort of Christian experience. The Christian life – and pastoral ministry – can be deeply frustrating.

The reality is that we will have to work with people who aren’t like us. We will rarely be able to lead churches that are exactly as we would have them either. I do not know a single minister who has everything the way they would like in their church. Either they are limited by the resources available to them or they are limited by the fact that others don’t want to do everything they do. Inevitably, the church leaders give way to how others would like things at least some of the time. Even in a church where you are sole leader, you will run into these problems. Making yourself top dog without accountability doesn’t resolve that for you. It just brings a whole heap of other frustrations instead.

I fear we will not see many people sticking in ministry unless and until we are clear with them about these things. Ministry is hard and frustrating. You will frequently have to work with people nothing like you – and the more multicultural your church with more than one culture represented – the more likely it is. You will have to find ways to work with people whose personalities are not like yours. You will have to find ways to press on in ministries that aren’t how you would like them to be because you feel it’s important that other people should take ownership of them, even if they do things you wouldn’t. You will have to face people claiming, despite you doing that, that you are controlling and want everything your own way. You will simultaneously be called uncaring and hands-off and micro-managing and controlling. You will have to suffer people saying things about you that aren’t true. You will have to face up to people saying things that are hard to hear that probably are true (and try to change as a result). None of it is comfortable and much of it is deeply frustrating. But we won’t last 5 minutes if we don’t accept that such is how it is.

Even when we work with people we love and respect dearly – and I have the privilege of that with my fellow elder and our third, previous-but-now-retired one – there are frustrations. We are very different people with different views on how to do things and, sometimes, what exactly to do. We can’t just park everything because, at the end of the day, sometimes you have to do something. Which means sometimes I get my way and feel frustrated there hasn’t always been easy agreement, sometimes I don’t get my way and feel frustrated about that (and the same is true for my brothers in arms too).

Those frustrations – frustrating as they may be – should not and do not scupper the ministry. We know that we all love the Lord. We all want the cause of the gospel to be served well. We all agree on the essentials and a bunch of non-essentials too. We might disagree now and then, we might even get frustrated periodically, but that is life. We find ways to work with each other, and love one another, and serve the Lord together because we all ultimately want the same thing. And because we all love the Lord, and each other, we have never fallen out or come to blows or anything like that. We just disagree every now and then. And we chat and decide what to do (whoever’s case wins out in the end) and we crack on seeking to serve the Lord and he cause of the gospel. It’s not frustration free, but then, what is?

We need to have a mindset that does not view the ministry as a frustration free experience. Nor expect that we will mainly press on without frustration. Ministry can be deeply frustrating at times, for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes we are the frustrating factor, sometimes it is other people and other times it is stuff beyond any of our control. Unless we grasp that reality, we ultimately won’t have much of a ministry left. We will be left floundering, moving from pillar to post, looking for an elusive frustrationless experience that, frankly, doesn’t exist.

The call to follow Christ is one of dying to self. Laying down our lives and ambitions in his service. Sometimes in deeply frustrating, difficult and hard circumstances. Often working with people nothing like us, who we don’t naturally click with, and whose views and culture we don’t always share. But in the end, if the gospel doing its work and the Spirit is active in us, their power will be made known through those very things. A ministry in which we stick that can only owe its existence to the work of the Spirit centred around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, frustrating or otherwise, our ministry might seem compelling to some.