When emotions are high, logic is low. For the pastors/elders reading this post, I know what you are thinking, “Does he have an inside track on our meetings?” No. I am referencing the health of your ministry to the church you are called to lead and serve. For those who are shepherding difficult congregations, the tendency is to allow emotions to rule the day. In short, the negative attitudes of the sheep rub off on the shepherd. After all, you are carrying them. What do you do when the temptation of a cynical attitude arises in ministry? What should you do when a cyncial attitude has morphed into sinful anger and bitterness?
Luke 10:38-42 narrates the familiar story of Jesus eating a meal at Martha’s house. From Martha’s perspective, the meal was going fine until her sister arrived. We are not given insight into the relationship of these sisters, but here is what we know; they were very different people from the same family. Martha is a doer. Mary is a thinker. Once Jesus is added to the mix, the conflict between these sisters is exposed.
The text tells us that Mary is at the feet of Jesus and that Martha “was distracted with all her preparations.” Literally, the Greek verb contextually implies that she was “being pulled away.” Martha notices Mary’s position and she asks Jesus a question. It is a question that demands a negative response from Jesus. Martha became bitter and disappointed in the midst of her service. It is not hard to imagine her running around with a scowl on her face.
So here is the key question; is it possible for you, pastor, to be pulled farther away from Jesus even in the midst of great service for him? Yes. As difficult as this statement sounds it is true. Even a pastor can rigourously shepherd the church while glaring at the sheep. You may protest, “But you don’t know my situation. I am being treated unfairly!” True, but life is not fair and ministry is the evidence. How do you avoid a cyncial attitude as you shepherd God’s people? For those of you called to ministry or who are currently serving in ministry, here is what this passage says.
Your service must begin at the feet of Jesus.
The end of the story is telling. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the “good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Pastor, you must choose the good part at the feet of your King before you ever play a part for the King. In fact, sitting at the feet of Jesus is your job. At this point, I will be transparent lest you think that I cannot relate to the instruction given. As a pastor for ten years, the dryest seasons of ministry were the ones where I neglected sitting at the feet of Jesus before serving him. These seasons revolved around the rationalization that busyness related to holiness.
Friend, if you are sacrificing the pleasure of sitting at the feet of Jesus on the altar of sermon preparation or seminary classes, may I exhort you to stop. Trust me, it will not work. You must as a shepherd devote consistent, quality time at the feet of the great Shepherd. You must do this before you serve or you will find yourself walking in the flesh. Once you begin to walk in the flesh as a shepherd, it is not a long journey to cynicism, bitterness, and anger. Second…
Your service must grow and continue out of an abiding relationship with Jesus.
Please get this next point. Once your service begins at the feet of Jesus, you must grow and continue your service with Jesus. You must not reduce the King of Kings to nothing more than a cosmic high school guidance counselor. My high school counselor told me I should be a biologist. He was wrong. As a shepherd, you should reject the tendency to get charged up in your relationship with Jesus and then do ministry in your own power. Then, when the batteries start to drain, you go back and recharge.
No. Your service, pastor, is designed by God to be accomplished out of a dependent relationship, not an independent one. Your service to the sheep can easily turn to busyness and if you are not careful, bitterness against yourself, others, or maybe even Jesus. I know. You believe the first two statements in the list I just gave, but you balk at the notion of personal anger against Jesus. Really? Read Luke 10:40 closely. Martha is mad at Jesus. Allow that idea to sink in for just a second.
Maybe you would never admit such a problem, but it is possible. Let me ask; the last time a ministry situation did not turn out well, who did you blame? When the volunteer list sits empty for five Sundays in a row, whose fault is it? Do you guilt the sheep or do you grab the hand of your abiding Savior who designed you for His minstry, not your ministry? Your service must grow and continue out of an abiding relationship with Jesus. If you follow this path in ministry, then the probability is that you will avoid the pit of cynicism, bitterness, and anger. Ministry may not get easier. However, your attitude is everything. Begin at the feet of Jesus. Grow at the feet of Jesus. Abide with Jesus. Serve with Jesus. Be careful not to use busy activity as a medication for anger or bitterness. A cure will never arrive with this prescription. Yes, there is a time to work, but only after choosing the “good part.”