By Pastor Doug
Recently I was asked what the most important thing I’ve learned in ministry is. It didn’t take me long to think through it. In fact it was the first thing that came to my mind.
Let it hurt.
After 20 years of ministry I’ve realized that pain and heartache are part of the gig. Thinking back, there are several things that really solidified this and all of it hurt. The main culprits were judgment by a man who could have been a mentor, losing my best friend as a partner in ministry when he and his family chose to leave the church I pastored, firing a great friend, doing the funeral service of my wife’s uncle, being accused of hitting a little old lady, and being sued by another pastor.
All of it hurt. But a long time ago, I chose to let it. To reject the idea of developing thick skin. And I think it has helped me understand Jesus more and get closer to him.
I hope you don’t go through all of the things I have been through, but I’m certain that you will go through tough seasons and that you’ll experience heartache as have all pastors. And it’s my hope that you will choose to let it hurt.
I thought that perhaps you might like to read what I wrote. I’m praying for you. And never forget, you are loved and I believe in you!
The most important lesson I have learned in ministry is this: Let it hurt – From Doug Gunsalus
I know that sounds contrary to popular teaching. The truth is that we go through a lot and it can be very painful. It hurts when people don’t agree with your vision. It hurts when they point out your shortcomings. It hurts when they leave your church. It hurts especially when the ones you have come to know and love, the ones that you pour your life into, the ones that you have the most hope for, the ones you befriend, decide they don’t want you as a pastor.
The thing that I have heard through most of my ministry is to develop a thick skin or perhaps don’t take it personal. These are important if you don’t want to go through pain. You can work hard on these things and they can become the truth about who you are. I haven’t been able to reconcile that with the life of Jesus. In ministry, the one thing that I have learned is that much of the time, “they” are right. I’m not the best pastor. I do have struggles. I don’t always see things from their perspective. I miss the mark of perfection and I know it. Standing up on Sunday mornings and proclaiming the Gospel can be difficult because I know how imperfect I am. But it isn’t my perfection that qualifies me as a pastor. It is simply the calling of Christ through his Holy Spirit. To live any other way would be defiant to the Lord.
This calling comes with hurt. There is no way around it. In many ways, it is a calling to take up our cross and follow Jesus. If we are to be like him, I believe, we have to let it hurt.
I learned this lesson when I was a youth pastor. There was a man who just didn’t like me. He especially didn’t like the way that I dressed. He would come up to me and make a comment about how he couldn’t believe I would wear jeans to church or make a comment about how the youth group didn’t know how to give their best for God.
One day, I was getting ready to preach in “Big Church”. It was one of the few times that I had been able to do that as a youth pastor. Sure enough, just minutes before church started, here came my “friend.” He looked particularly distraught that day. I wore a jacket and slacks. Honestly, I was pretty dressed up. He came right over to me and said, I wondered if you were going to be able to get dressed up today so you could step behind that pulpit. I responded by saying, yes. I know who my audience is. I try to dress accordingly. When I’m speaking to the teens, I want them to know I can relate to them and today, I want to relate to the adults in the room. I am just trying to step into their world. Trying to be a good example. This made him cringe and he said sarcastically, “some example you are.”
I had never been so hurt as a pastor to that point. It took me a second as my mind raced through ways to respond. Should I just walk away? Should I say something snarky back about his ear hair? Should I scold him for his attitude? Or…should I let it hurt?
Somehow through the holy spirit, I knew that this was a defining moment for me. I decided to follow in Jesus footsteps and let it hurt. I imagined Jesus on the cross saying, father forgive them, for they know not what they do as he hung from a tree that these very people nailed him to.
I gathered myself and said, friend, I am so sorry to hear that you feel that way. I give my absolute best to point people to Jesus every day. and to hear that you don’t think I’m a good example really hurts me. It breaks my heart. I hope that you can see how much I try to follow after the Lord and how much of myself I put into helping these students know Him more.
He looked back at me and for the first time, he knew he could hurt me. I had given him authority to inflict pain in my life. It caught him off guard and he said…well, you aren’t a terrible example. Then he walked away. That was the last time he chastised me for my clothes.
God gave us the authority to hurt him through our sin. When we give others that authority, we begin to know him better, we discover more about how he loves us and how we are to love others, and we take up our cross and follow Him. it is costly. There is no doubt. But I would encourage you to let it hurt anyway.