One thing I wish I knew when I started sharing my faith was that people will let you down.
I have far too often heard these words spoken—often in jest—by those in ministry: ‘ministry would be great if it wasn’t for the people’. Maybe you’ve been guilty of this? I have! The truth is that as people, we are complex beings; we have beliefs, values and opinions that shape how we relate and respond to others around us. We also have past experiences and a unique worldview that are just as important in how we navigate relationships, disappointment, failure and success.
As humans we are sometimes fickle beings—easily offended and just as easily provoked! There is no doubt in my mind that there is a general lack of civility in society today—sadly, especially among Christians! This is true in life and ministry all the same! I am reminded of what Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” As Christians, we often find ourselves being divided over secondary issues that are made primary, and we do not show one another enough grace and compassion. We are always fighting one another on points that may not even be all that central! I have personally experienced the tension of relationships where secondary matters of the faith have been the main reason for conflict that was both unnecessary and unhelpful. Sadly, these types of conflict also tarnish the witness of God’s people and disable our evangelistic effectiveness. Can we say—like Paul—that we have fought the good fight (not every fight), that we have persevered and finished the race set before us? Or that we’ve kept the faith and have shown others how they should do the same? One Thing I wish I knew years ago is how to navigate people better!
Here are a few points that may be helpful to you as you navigate the relational complexities that can sometimes get in the way of our ministry to others:
People will disappoint us, but God is ever faithful. No one is perfect (except Christ)! No one is able to live a blameless life (except Christ)! We live in a fallen, broken, and sinful world—a world where the enemy is at work, and a world that needs God’s redemption! Don’t be surprised by the disappointment that will come through others. Remember that disappointment is a two-way street, and we need to both receive and extend grace when it comes to letting others down.
Hurt people, hurt people. The world is full of broken people, and we are no different! Sometimes, people bring their own baggage (or freight!) into relationships/friendships that lead them to respond in certain ways; especially if they have been hurt in the past and have a history of this kind of behaviour. Hurt people tend to lash out and hurt others when they feel attacked or are disappointed with a particular outcome. Sometimes we will be on the receiving end of someone’s hurt and we need to exercise patience and allow God’s Spirit to work things out in the long haul.
We need to be guarded, yet generous. When I have been attacked or hurt by someone, I have invested my life, time, and resources into, I feel it deeply. There are times when I feel that it is not worthwhile investing in people in these ways, but I am often reminded of the times when this type of investment pays off! My own life is a good example of the persistence of others! Jesus did not write off the motley band of disciples because Judas failed him, did he? Jesus didn’t write off Peter because he abandoned and denied Him, did he? Be careful to establish clear boundaries as you witness to others, but always seek to display the extravagant generosity of Christ to people.
God works all things for good. The truth is that people matter to God! Actually, ALL people matter to God! In our service to king Jesus let’s never forget that central fact! I have often heard that leadership is influence. I agree with this statement, and I believe that leadership is all about pouring your life out as a drink offering (see Phil 2:17 and 2 Tim 4:6) to God in service to the church and those who need to hear the Gospel. Our influence is not exerted in a vacuum; it is exercised in proximity to people and with a desire for all people to thrive in their relationship with Almighty God.
1- How has your past hurt shaped how you engage with people today?
2- Who do you need to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness, to bring relational harmony?
3- How can you guard your heart without becoming a cynic?