By Gabriel Montez

Gabriel has been a pastor for six years in Southern California before moving to Central Texas. He now pastors a small church as well as a chaplain in a retirement community. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, and a Master’s degree in Mental Health & Wellness from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Gabe also has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation from Liberty University in Virginia.

    Doing Ministry Well When It All Falls Apart

    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    A story has stayed with me ever since I first read it. The story tells of a minister with repeated tragedy who would soon know supreme suffering. Doug Herman lost his grandfather who he greatly respected to liver cancer, his youngest brother to leukemia, and his infant daughter Ashli was born with AIDS, all in two months. He would soon lose his daughter as well as his wife through the blood used to replace that which was lost in delivery. All he had left was his firstborn son Joshua. Through the pain and torment he had experienced, Doug had asked God why. He recalls saying, “God was supposed to be my refuge, my hiding place! I am a minister! I had given Him my life.”

    Doug recalls later taking his six-year-old Joshua for a vaccination. He describes his son as fearful of the needle while Doug reassures him that it will be alright. As the needle pierced his skin, Joshua cried out, “Daddy!” as his father held him. Doug Herman realizes and then shares that his son wondered why such a painful process would be allowed when he was there to protect him. Joshua did not understand the necessity of the pain and that it was for the better, however painful at that moment. God blessed Doug with clarity to see through his tears the suffering we must live through.1

    Why Is Suffering Is Necessary

    A difficult lesson to learn is that our growing relationship with Jesus is not equated with comfort. Our growing spiritual formation is not gaged by lasting still waters. A gospel impact on the community around our church is not based on monetary success or growing attendance. Sentiments like these are spoken in the church but often fade away as temptations capture one’s mind for comfort. To tell a person that the Christian life will require moments of pain can cause anyone to pause. Yet, despite it being vital to our maturity, this pain is what churches often avoid as if it were a pitfall in appealing to the community. Furthermore, to say that there are no remedies, no methods in which to avoid pain, or little preparation for it when it does come isn’t appealing (besides Biblical wisdom of course). The repeated gut punch we feel when a life is lost, rejection is felt, plans fall through, or love is dampened makes us want to retreat from it all.

    While in ministry, it is especially difficult to smile and to continue with our care when we feel extraordinary grief. This applies to pastors as well as all saints, or in other words, any believer who is preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus Christ. For myself, I have had moments of conversation that had been tense or confrontational that left me feeling disoriented. It left me feeling inadequate, alone, and with a sense of misery. Had I failed? Had I not listened to God’s instruction?

    “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)

    Hope is what comes from this verse and what I glean from reading the story of Doug Herman. Many of us would have lost ourselves to severe depression, substance abuse, or other coping methods. It happens all the time when we have a deep wound in the heart that can’t be recovered. However, God had impressed upon him an answer to a question he asked, why? Our hope comes in knowing that we can ask why and while we might not get the answer we want to hear, we can get the answer that comes with hope. This hope is eternal, looking for the completed race to be finished well, and in step with Christ.

    Understanding Holy Success through Pain

    “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV)

    A conversation with a congregant that doesn’t go well or ends with a flat-out rejection of the Christian worldview can leave us thinking we have lost. Low turnout for services, low numbers of baptisms, pushback on spiritual care or hopeful movements, and wondering if they are even hearing your Biblical teaching can be discouraging. Situations like these have given me moments of doubt, fear, and questioning my ability. However, God is faithful and has revealed through tiny and scattered moments of hope the fruits of His ministry. It is a humbling journey that is teaching me not to look at the success of ministry through aesthetics but through impact.

    At one moment in time, I had come to realize that the more we “beautify” the church building, the more we can be distracted from God’s beautification of our soul which is His temple. The painful process of renovation can leave us hoping for people to come as it is appealing to the eye. I am not saying to let leaky pipes leak or let rusty nails peek out of walls. Instead, allow the Holy Spirit to humble you, and then teach you how to enjoy the organic fruit of your experiences—for example, looking at the place of worship as a work in progress while at that moment appreciating that God allows you to be there. Soon, the beauty of your place of worship will be realized because God is there, despite cracks on the walls or dripping toilets.

    Keep Moving

    A successful church is NOT one with a full bank account, full pews, or a church with a full calendar. A successful church is a body of believers serving out the great commission—preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus Christ and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42). A successful church is people taking steps forward even when it hurts, is risky, and even lonely.

    “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philippians 3:10 (ESV)

    As you lead in ministry and surrender to God, you will feel the weight of the cross. Also, the Devil will lie to you as you feel discomfort in your soul, through your body and mind, and about your sensation of failure. Keep moving! As Simon was asked to help carry the cross with Jesus (Mark 15:21), you too carry it toward His goal. Notice as Simon helped at that moment, it didn’t seem to him as successful, but necessary. He didn’t understand the overall intent of our savior fulfilling prophesy at that moment. Simon most likely saw the blood, sweat, tears, torture, and brokenness of Jesus but not the glory of His sacrifice. We too don’t know why but know it is our present challenge. Be prayerful about the pain, be aware of it, and go to God with it. Please know that not all struggles, heartache, and grief are the result of failure but the challenges of carrying the cross.

    [1] Rusten, E. Michael, and Sharon Rusten. 2003. Christian History. A Daily Glimpse into God's Powerful Work. Carol Stream: Tyndale House.

    Help us continue providing resources of care for pastors and their families.

    Pin It on Pinterest