For Christian Leaders: What to Do When the Ministry Guts You

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There are times when serving the Lord in vocational ministry is a gutting experience.  We’ve all been there and some of us are there now.

While there is nothing like the joy and honor of assisting in the spiritual growth of individuals within the body of Christ, there is also nothing like the pain inherent in leading people. The blows can be devastating.

When you are pouring your life into it, but the response of people is indifference at best, it has a way of making you feel all alone in the world.

Consider Moses. While meeting with God at the top of Mt. Sinai, he left the congregation in the hands of his assistant, Aaron. This is always tricky, isn’t it? How many of us have returned from time away only to find a total mess, compliments of our assistant?

In spite of the glorious liberation God had provided for them at the hands of Moses, the people quickly gave up waiting for him and with Aaron’s help, they went headlong into idolatry (Exodus 32). Moses came down the mountain and couldn’t believe what he saw. Just like that, his congregation was paganized. Beneath his anger, no doubt, was a heart shattered with disappointment.  

If we’re honest, this is where many of us would say, “I’m out. I think I’ll go sell insurance.” When the ministry guts you, it is natural to seek an escape from it.

Yet instead, Moses took some unexpected measures.

How Moses handled that moment of setback in the ministry is instructive for those of us dealing with setbacks today. Particularly, we might underscore the part where Moses sought a renewed perspective on the glory of God.

When we’ve seen people as they really are, with the ugliness of sin exposed, it is then a matter of urgency that we see God for who He really is.

It had been a long time since his burning bush experience, when he first encountered the otherness of God (Exodus 3). Once again, as God’s servant, Moses needed reassurance of two things: that God was both glorious and perfectly present at the same time.

His conversation with God went like this:

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33).

When we’ve seen people as they really are, with the ugliness of sin exposed, it is then a matter of urgency that we see God for who He really is. Moses had seen the backside of fallen people; next he would get the glorious privilege of seeing the backside of God, but this view would renew him for the next chapter of his ministry.

The late Warren Wiersbe once said, “When God’s servants are discouraged and disappointed because of the sins of their people, the best remedy for a broken heart is a new vision of the glory of God.” In other words, when the ministry has gutted you, the cleft of the Rock is always nearby, that place where the beauty of God’s character and the vast dimensions of His gospel are in full view. We can go there and be renewed for whatever comes next.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

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