“Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NLT).
Since many spiritual leaders are content to serve with a minimum of fanfare, we may fail to grasp the immense responsibility that accompanies a pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, many clergy members tend to be recognized by those outside the church only under the following conditions:
- When they’ve experienced a moral failing.
- When they’ve made a foolish decision.
- When many thousands will watch or gather to hear them speak.
However, there are untold numbers of other church leaders who are quietly and effectively serving as Jesus’ representatives without praise, recognition, or attention. (1) Because of this, those who are quick to criticize a clergy member may fail to recognize and appreciate the challenges that face a church leader in every phase of ministry.
For instance, a minister may question God’s calling if it seems their work is bearing little fruit. If the ministry is large or expanding, the leader will be challenged to grow along with it. The need for adequate financial support is another common concern for many clergy members. In addition, a ministerial leader must always be careful to ensure that others are treated in a manner that reflects well upon Christ, even if it means suppressing what he or she might like to say.
Another important challenge for church leaders involves the need to interact responsibly with subordinates or people who are attracted to those who hold a position of authority and power. As the old adage reminds us, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Nevertheless, the greatest source of discouragement for a pastoral leader often comes in the form of a person who has broken his or her promises or betrayed that leader in some way. In fact, Paul the Apostle spoke of his own experience in that area when he told the church at Corinth that he had often been “…in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26). We can define such “false brethren” as those who wrongfully identify as Christians or genuine believers who represent themselves as something they’re not.
These unfortunate realities present a constant concern for the minister. For these reasons, our time is often better spent praying for our spiritual leaders than seeking to criticize them.
(1) At least in this life.