I came across a self-talk critique that pegs many within ministry positions: “If people don’t agree with me, they do not like me.” It was in the Myers-Briggs assessment where I learned that ministry workers have an unusually high predominance in the category of ‘intuitive feelers’. Having a compassionate heart is important in ministry, but we need to have a stronger sense of self that allows us not to bow predictably to emotional power brokers.
The emotional side of ministry is difficult enough, but some of the pain we may carry may be what we inflict upon ourselves. We may be listening to emotional self-talk that tears down self-esteem as though it is the voice of God. My hope is not for an exaltation of self which is filled with pride, but an understanding of our self which is based first upon what God thinks of us.
Emotional maturity is obviously a highly desirable trait in ministry workers. A sign of this maturity for me is how one handles a critical statement about themselves. Hopefully we have the positive experiences which enlightens us on the truth that “faithful are the wounds of a friend”. Corrective comments by friends are displays of love meant for our advancement in character.
However it feels quite different when there is no established level of friendship and the critical comments come. These experiences are tests of our character. These are the moments where we wrestle with possible bitterness, back-biting, defensive rationalizing, or blame casting. It takes a different level of emotional maturity to love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.
Let me slant this in another direction: Anyone in ministry for long will bear some marks of battle and most of these marks are from emotionally laden spears. We do not need to look far to find where the church has hurt its own, whether intentionally or not, and many of these have been very gifted leaders. The question remains then, can we not keep our Christian character intact even when we or others we love are hurt?
Being mature means taking the high road, listening to the Spirit at all times, being gracious when others are not, and trusting God to judge others rightly while postponing judgment ourselves.
Likely reading this has brought stories to mind, but let me encourage all of us to seek to embrace the pains of ministry. Our lives are not to be about success but service, not about being the victim but being victorious, not about survival but faithfulness. Dying to self is by no means fun, but it is a significant part of becoming emotionally mature so that we can bless others.
As we remember the cross and the resurrection, let us truly make deeper applications to ourselves as well.
Your co-worker, Dennis