Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bearing the Yoke When You're Young

I was having coffee with a new ministry friend here in Canada, just to get to know him better and hear his story. As he began to share his ministry history, some of the details started to sound familiar:

"Early in my ministry career, I was eager and passionate about (the church, the ministry, the vision God had given)."

"But that passion got rocked when (the job description changed, the congregants criticized me, the paycheck got cut in half, the senior pastor threatened me, the church split)

"I was (angry, burned out, fired, ostracized, abused)."

"That's my story."

So many young leaders and pastors in the church share the story of early suffering and difficulty in ministry. During my first full-time year in ministry, I recall sitting down with my senior pastor and sharing some of my own struggles and pains that I was experiencing at the hands of the church leadership. He nodded, and calmly replied that this was just the way it works when you're a young leader in the church.

This is inevitable? The church will cause stress, pain, and hardship in one's life, and this is unavoidable?


Now, this isn't an excuse for churches who abuse and mistreat their leaders, particular their young ones. This doesn't make it right or fair to be burned out or spurned by congregants. But let me offer you the difficult truth:

If you're a leader in the church, you will experience pain. It's best to learn how to embrace and move through valleys of suffering rather than try to avoid or ignore them.

Jeremiah writes this in Lamentations 3:27:
It is good for people to bear the yoke while they are young.
He's talking about the consequences of sin--both personal and systemic--but the principle expands to encompass the reality of ministry. It can feel weighty and difficult. Sometimes its simply a slog through the mud. It requires patience and endurance, a willingness to overcome. It's humbling, pushing our faces in the dust, reminding us that we are weak and in need of a Savior.

Jesus promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He also promises that we will experience hardship and difficulty in this world (yet to take heart, because He has overcome the world). So while it isn't easy or fun, perhaps these early chapters of pain and hurt can be for our benefit. Perhaps when we bear the yoke as a youth, we develop the spiritual muscle to endure through even greater difficulties that may come. If we recognize the spiritual cycle that we are in, knowing that we are moving from exile to the land of promise, then we may find the strength to endure, and ultimately experience hope.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)

If you're a church leader experiencing the pain of walking through a valley, don't give up. Keep the towel. We worship a Savior who walks with us through the pain and offers us hope as we exit the valley. Bear the yoke when you're young so you can have greater endurance in the seasons to come.

1 comment:

  1. What is really difficult to bear is that sometimes the struggles come from unexpected sources. We're warned as leaders, by other leaders, that the enemy will use every trick he knows to knock you off your perch. So you might expect trouble from your friends, even your family. You don't expect it to come from within the church. I was experiencing hassles, but carried on hanging in there, desperately wanting to remain faithful. But every leader needs to ask God, frequently, am I where you want me to be? The excuse shouldn't be abuse from within, but leaders shouldn't allow themselves to be kicked about for no reason. If they are getting nowhere with what they know God has called them to do, they may want to pray into whether they should be brushing the dust off, metaphorically. I did. I got the answer. Just giving my experience.