“How do you keep going in ministry? Especially after so much hurt?” My friend, the wife of a pastor, sat on my couch with tear-filled eyes. As we sipped our tea, I asked God to help me offer some words of encouragement. As I write this now, I’m praying that way again, asking God to help me encourage you if you find yourself in pain over broken relationships in your church — and especially if you, like me, are married to a pastor.
To be called by Jesus into gospel ministry, to point broken people to our merciful and loving Savior, is an immense privilege. It’s a weighty, joyful role to support our husbands as they shepherd the flock the Holy Spirit has placed in their care (Acts 20:28). In the eternal sense, and often even now in this age, it’s among the most rewarding responsibilities we will carry. And at times, it can be heartbreaking.
For instance, a friend may turn on a pastor’s wife over a church disagreement, over whether the elders make this decision or that. That was the pain my friend was enduring, pain I knew all too well. After years of reaching out to new visitors and pouring herself into the people of her church, conflict was tearing apart relationships that were meaningful to my friend. Gossip and slander were making it worse. The very people she called friends were walking away without so much as a goodbye. I watched her pain roll down her cheeks in tears.
Encouragement for Heartache in Ministry
That kind of pain and heartache comes with any meaningful ministry, which means her question is a good one, an important one:
How do you keep going in ministry after so much hurt?
Thank God the Bible has many good answers. And while God doesn’t answer every specific question we might have, he reminds us that this kind of pain and loss is part of this age, and none of it will be in vain. God is doing more good (in us and in others) than we know, and at the end of the day, at the end of life, Jesus will be worth it.
1. Jesus understands your heartache.
When we struggle feeling betrayed by a friend or church member, we remember that Jesus endured the greatest betrayal. He knows the pain we’ve endured — and far more. The very disciple he was investing in handed him over to the authorities with a kiss. Even his most adamant supporter and friend denied knowing him three times. When Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake and join him in prayer the night before his crucifixion, they fell asleep. And then, of course, the very people he came to minister to were crying out to crucify him.
Jesus is the High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). When we too face rejection, we can rejoice, knowing that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
2. Heartache produces hope.
The heartbreaks and trials we face in our ministry are not for nothing. As John Piper writes, God is always doing ten thousand things (and more) that we can’t even see.
“The heartbreaks and trials we face in our ministry are not for nothing.”
One important thing God is doing through our hurts and broken relationships is teaching us to persevere. We keep reaching out, inviting others into our homes and initiating friendships, because our hope is in eternity. He is shaping our character and building our hope through suffering, as he pours his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3–5). We endure being slandered or mistreated within the church, knowing that we can rejoice in our suffering. In this world we will have trouble, but we take heart because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
3. Heartache will equip you to comfort others.
As my husband and I have walked through our own trials in our twenty years of ministry, God has been faithful to bring more seasoned pastors’ wives alongside me to encourage me with what they have learned. I’ve experienced firsthand the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3–4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Older pastors’ wives have been a listening ear, a source of gospel-filled hope and wisdom, pointing me to the truths of Scripture and praying for me. Those conversations have been like water to a parched soul.
If you’re in the midst of ministry hardships, ask God to provide a seasoned pastor’s wife to come alongside you. And look for the ways you can provide comfort to a woman who is not as far along the path as you are. One of the greatest joys in ministry is found in serving others who are hurting.
4. Keep doing good, even now.
One verse that has ministered to me countless times during dark seasons is 1 Peter 4:19: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” These words are a precious reminder that the suffering we endure in ministry is part of God’s good plan for us. It is not a surprise to him, something unforeseen along our path of service. Instead, it’s often the very tool God uses to encourage us to lean into his grace.
As we entrust our souls to our Creator, we keep doing good. We get outside our own propensity to self-absorption and self-pity, and focus on meeting the needs of others. Instead of wallowing in lingering pain over what we’ve lost, we can ask God to help us see who else needs a friend, who needs a helping hand or a word of encouragement. We can ask the Lord to show us where we can use our gifts to joyfully meet the needs of others. As we lift our eyes off of ourselves, inevitably we will find more joy and peace through the only One who can truly satisfy.
5. The gospel shines brighter in heartache.
Our natural, sinful reaction when we’ve been wounded is to wallow in our pain or to seek revenge, but God calls us to something higher. Romans 12:14–21 exhorts us to bless those who persecute us — to not repay anyone evil for evil, but instead show radical love to our adversaries. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20–21). The grace of God enables us to move past our natural feelings to show tenacious love and grace to our offenders. These situations, although painful, are actually profound opportunities to show that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).
“The grace of God enables us to move past our natural feelings to show tenacious love and grace to our offenders.”
As followers of Christ, we are reminded that love is patient and kind, not irritable or resentful, that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). When we are hurt by others, it’s easy to assume the worst of their motives. But Christlike love calls us to believe the best. Our love is to be long-suffering, to bear with the offenses of others. No matter how harsh of a disagreement, we are challenged to assume that our opponents felt compelled by their own different convictions (unless, of course, we have obvious evidence of their ill will).
An older pastor who walked through a painful church split shared this challenging perspective with my husband: “Despite all the heartache in our congregation, I believe those who created controversy and later left were trying to act in the best interest of the church.” What a gracious way to view the actions and words that caused such painful wounds.
And, in addition to assuming the best of others, we can also ask God to examine our own hearts (Psalm 139:23–24). How might we have contributed to the pain we’re experiencing? Have we harbored bitterness or resentment toward others? And if we discover any wrong in ourselves (and we often will!), we can rejoice that God freely forgives us and covers us by the blood of Christ.
6. Jesus is worth any heartache.
My heartbroken friend knew she had a choice to make: either guard herself from pain through withdrawal and isolation or trust God by continuing to love and invest in others. By God’s grace, she’s choosing the latter. The hardship she faced in church ministry propelled her to lean on Jesus for strength to keep going.
Jesus is worth any suffering that we endure on this earth. Our possessions, reputation, and earthly significance all pale in comparison to the treasure we have in him. Our pain in ministry either can leave us jaded and isolated from others, fearing the next hurt, or it can move us to trust Christ for the radical grace and love that only he can provide.
So, don’t give up. For the joy set before you (Hebrews 12:2), persevere through this “light momentary affliction” in love (2 Corinthians 4:17), in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11), for the eternal glory of God and for the eternal good of Christ’s church.