Dealing with Rejection in Ministry and Leadership
I’ve heard it from Pastors on five continents. The pain of rejection in ministry and leadership stings and can exact a high price from our leadership and from our lives. What does it look like?
- The nagging memory of a harsh critic of your preaching, ideas, family, etc.
- The pain of trusted people blowing off as unimportant the things that you have worked hard on to grow the church.
- The people you trusted as friends that leave your church for another in town, and with or without knowing it, exact a feeling of rejection in you.
- The weight of expectations placed on you and your family, that could not be carried by even the Apostle Paul.
Now, not every critic or questioned plan or person that leaves or expectation on us as leaders is wrong or without reason. I’ve learned, that most of the time, these can be great blessings and can lead us to personal growth. But whether done in love or in wisdom or whether it proves to be an eventual blessing, the actions or words of those we lead can stab a sharp pain into our hearts and minds. A sense of rejection.
The danger is that we began to see everything through the lens of those actions, or words, or the real failures in our ministry. Our movement forward in Christ and as leaders in his body can slow or cease. We can began to expect rejection when the phone rings (“they’re calling to tell me that they’re leaving the church”) or when people walk in to the office (“they’re here to tell me that they’ve got a problem with something”), robbing us from intimacy in relationships and influence with others. The rejection of others can take on a louder voice than the acceptance of God and of the call He has placed on our lives.
I’ve heard rejection’s voice and it has kept me from:
- Building relationships with others as I’ve feared their eventual disappointment in me.
- Fully sharing the Gospel because of uncertainty about the persons response.
- Dealing with heart issues, as the pain of rejection in the past becomes a sore scab that I want no one to touch.
- Taking risk for the kingdom that requires confidence in God’s call and power.
- Not being able to give love and acceptance to others, who are desperately looking for it, because love and acceptance are not finding a home in my heart and mind.
In worst cases, pastors leave the ministry with deep pain; pastors kids grow up hating the church; the pastors wife feels isolated and alone; the pastors home becomes a cold place because rejection’s voice hardens the heart of everyone inside. Don Wilton once said, “In a room full of pastors, there’s a broken heart on every row.” How do we get free from this nagging voice and painful aspect of leadership and ministry?
Moving Past Rejection in Ministry:
1. Expect Rejection
Disciples are promised throughout the New Testament that they will be hated, persecuted, crushed, abandoned, alone. Jesus said we would be like sheep among wolves. It’s never promised that ministry would be easy. Facing rejection and criticism is a hazard of the calling. To be called to ministry is to be called to rejection. Deny yourself, prepare to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to keep moving forward. When you expect something, you can brace for its impact. How do we prepare and brace for rejection?
Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:18; 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:13
2. Live Accepted
Embrace God’s acceptance of you in Christ EVERYDAY. The only acceptance that matters, is the fact that God in Christ has accepted you into his family and thought you worthy to carry His gospel to others. In Christ, you don’t have to fight for acceptance, you fight FROM acceptance. You don’t work for God’s approval, you work FROM God’s approval. You don’t strive for victory over pain, you strive FROM a place of victory in Christ for all eternity. Embrace and remind yourself regularly that God’s love is not BASED on my performance or the opinions of others, it PLACED on me by an all-knowing, loving Father. I am accepted, loved, blessed by God, no matter what happens around me. People may reject us and set us aside as unimportant, but God accepts us and sets us apart for relationship and ministry in his kingdom.
John 6:37; Romans 15:7; Ephesians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:13; 21-22
3. Put your trust in a Faithful God
God is faithful. People are fickle. So, the main voice we listen to must be the voice of God. He doesn’t change his mind about you. His word is forever fixed in heaven. The same cannot be said for any human being, me included. We are fickle. I pray that you have many faithful friends in ministry that stick by you no matter what. But if not, you can count on God’s sovereign faithfulness to comfort you and empower you until the day you die. And for every John (the disciple Jesus loved), there will probably be a Judas, whose actions feel like betrayal. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your trust in God to live free from the pain of rejection.
Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 91:4-6; Lamentations 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23; 1 Peter 4:19.
4. Forgive Quickly
Forgiveness is a vital tool for ministry leaders. We can internalize so many slights, offenses, grievances. And the pain of these WILL spill out into your leadership. Jesus modeled for us the radical forgiveness that God desires for us, when even on the cross as he was brutally and unjustly slaughtered, he sought the forgiveness of those who rejected him in the most vile and painful way possible. Forgiveness is the path of freedom. In forgiveness, we find freedom to continue to risk, to serve, to love and accept others. Without it, the slights and criticisms and actions of others become a burden we bear to the detriment of fruitful ministry. Decide right now, that you will forgive when offended. Ask God for thick skin and a merciful heart. Remembering always, how much we’ve been forgiven and how much mercy God has richly bestowed on us.
Matthew 5:7; 6:14-15; 18:33; Mark 11:25; Colossians 3:13; James 2:13
5. Don’t Walk Alone
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” James 5:16. Find a trusted friend in ministry or two that you can process the pain of rejection with. This pain is known by almost every leader I know. There are understanding fellow travelers along this road that can help you heal through opening up the wounds and allowing the encouragement of friendship to refresh your spirit. Don’t believe the lie that you’re alone in these thoughts and feelings. Open up to a companion in ministry. And encourage your wife to do the same.
Romans 12:10; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25; 13:1; James 5:16
The fear of rejection is counterproductive
Allowing rejection to hold you back is so counterproductive. It will cause you as a leader to take less risk, build fewer relationships, bear less fruit, lead to more slow progress for the mission of your church. This paralysis will likely lead to more apparent rejection in your ministry as people sense a lack of vision and leadership from you. Move past it through reminding yourself of God’s acceptance, trusting in God’s faithfulness, forgiving those who have rejected you quickly, and talking it through with faithful friends. You don’t have to be stuck and unfruitful any longer.
There is too much at stake to allow the rejection of a few to keep you from pursuing the high call of God to reach the world. Break free from the fear and the pain of rejection.
How else have you dealt with the pain of rejection in relationships and leadership? Email me if I can help in any way.