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The Ministry Of Rejection

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 297

Rejection.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a "brush-off," other times by the unkind remark. Other times it may be more direct in the form of blame or slander.

In some of its most intense forms, it may result in abandonment, desertion, public humiliation and/or physical harm. Whatever its form, one thing is constant. It almost always hurts. Rejection is not contained in any top ten listing of "Joys of the Ministry." But it is a real and frequent part of the ministry experience.

The Ministry Of Rejection In Biblical Perspective
 
From a Biblical perspective, rejection is one of the most central aspects of prophetic ministry. There is no prophet who had not experienced it. There was no period in the history of God’s covenant people in which a prophet did not experience rejection. There were no "get out of jail" free cards, no "free passes", and no "pass go and collect $200" ways to avoid the experiences.
 
Among the prophets, none were too good, too faithful, too zealous, or too responsive to God not to experience rejection. In fact, it is precisely these qualities which, from a Biblical perspective, make the ministry of rejection impossible to avoid.
 
Unavoidable Ministry Rejection
 
There are numerous reasons that a ministry of rejection is unavoidable. One reason is because of the nature of ministry. Christian ministry is not directed to the "well" but to those needing a doctor.
"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:12-13 NIV
Individuals in pain, crisis, transition and trauma often direct antagonistic feelings toward God and those who represent them. Those who choose to offer a ministry of appropriate intervention are at risk. Injured animals often attack their rescuer. Wounded sinners may also do the same to God’s intervening servants.
 
A second reason for rejection in ministry is that Christian ministry is also directed to those who believe they are "well." It is precisely people who are deluded into their own prideful sense of spiritual self-sufficiency that the ministry of rejection must confront. It is they, who Jesus said must
"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:13 (NIV)
A third, but by no means final reason is that rejection is a result of the target of ministry: sin. Sin, as Satan intends, is a highly volatile entity. It tends to increase its volatility or explosiveness every time it encounters anyone or anything. When placed in contact with other sin, it escalates and intensifies. When placed in the presence of God, its explodes uncontrollably. Perhaps this is why those carrying God’s Word sometimes feel more like amateurs on a bomb squad rather than ministers!
 
Avoidable Rejection
 
Some rejection may be avoidable.
 
Sometimes pastoral insensitivity may inadvertently address explosive issues in an improper setting. Even casual, caring pastoral remarks in a public setting can sometimes trigger unnecessary rejective reactions. Thoughtless jokes about people, people groups, or stereotypes can also trigger unnecessary rejection. The best advice here is simply to use your head. Think before you speak.
 
Some pastors cause chronic unnecessary rejection because of a character flaw. This is not to be confused with the pastor who occasionally makes a rejection-provoking remark.
 
Nevertheless, there are dysfunctional clergy. There are those who instead of leading of biblical ministry of rejection do everything they can to initiate unhealthy rejection in virtually everything they do. Lacking a solid foundation for ministry, such individuals wreak reactive havoc in the church and beyond.
 
Not all avoidable rejection is the pastor’s fault, though. Some laity live on the "high" of causing rejection. Devoted to sabotaging the health and self-esteem of others—especially pastors—they will react to even the most innocuous comments with scathing, merciless rejective attacks.
 
Tools For Dealing With Rejection
 
Perhaps the best news about rejection is that God knew that it would be part of ministry. For this reason He has given various tools for dealing with rejection. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
 
1) Dusting Off One’s Feet: Though not recommended for modern-day ministry, this image is powerful for those in a ministry of rejection. To those who have rejected the Word of God, it is a strong indicator of the gravity of their rejection.
 
Dusting off one's feet is also a powerful image for the rejected one who has faithfully proclaimed the word of God. Jesus taught it to His disciples as He prepared them for a ministry of rejection in Matthew 10.
"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town." Matthew 10:14 (NIV)
Jesus' command to shake the dust off one's feet is His therapeutic directive for the ministry of rejection. The rejected minister must shake off the spiritually toxic and emotionally overwhelming feelings which rejection can trigger so that Satan cannot use the rejection to destroy.
 
Jesus' words also remind those in the ministry of rejection of the true value of our rejection in ministry. It's worthless dirt. Get rid of it…for God’s sake and yours. If it is true that individuals change their thoughts by their actions, then Jesus' command to shake the dust off our feet may be one of the most important therapeutic ways to change our attitudes toward rejective experiences.
 
2) Consider Flight As An Option. In some circumstances the rejective atmosphere is so deeply entrenched that the only realistic option one has is to flee. But don't be so quick to exercise this option. This option is greatly over-utilized in the church to the dismay of churches, leaders, denominational officials and God.
 
If God's servants are not willing to grow and be shaped by rejection, they deny God’s working in one of the most powerful aspects of our spirituality. One cannot become more Christ-like without also being open to experiencing what Christ Himself experienced.
 
3) Try Perseverance. Rejection is an important aspect of the Christ-experience. For this reason, perseverance may often be the better, healthier and God-pleasing response than flight or other evasive withdrawal responses. Rejection doesn't necessarily mean you have to give up. Often it's the painful reminder that the strength of our ministry is not ours, it's His. If we do not reject Him, He promises to faithfully be our "Very-Present-Help-In-Trouble."
 
4) Recognize And Avoid Codependent Tendencies. The "Christ-Experience" includes many things. It does not, however, include codependency. Christ died for, called, and saved the ungodly. This means that God’s ministers don’t have to "save" people. It’s already been done—once and for all!
 
Too often the greatest pain which rejection triggers are pains related to codependencies. As those causing the rejection may be codependent, so the ministers they reject may also be conducting a codependent style of ministry. Some examples of codependent leadership may include,
* When ministers try to control the feelings of others;
* When ministers have a false sense that everything in their ministry is under control;
* When a minister's self becomes fused and undifferentiated from their ministry;
* When a minister can't get away from "work" but is inexhaustibly "faithfully" ministering to the people of God far beyond what is "normal" and "healthy";
* When ministers are driven by the praise and acclaim of the congregation to the extent that without it they cannot be at peace in their ministry;
* When ministers are unable to deal with and respond to criticism, fair or unfair;
* When their spirituality is based on whether God gives numerical growth and success as they have planned; and
* When ministers feel the ministry is theirs, not God's. God, they believe, will give remarkable success to the ministry because they are the ministers...not because of His will.
These and other issues are always unhealthy factors. For leaders, perhaps the greatest danger is that these codependencies may appear in reactive responses. For further insight see Ministry Health article 277 "Roots Of Reactivity."
 
5) Make It A Habit To Demonstrate Pastoral Sensitivity. Though a ministry of rejection expects that rejection will occur, it does not incite unnecessary or unwise rejection. When difficult issues must be addressed, pastoral sensitivity will consider the kinds of settings which are most appropriate. Should it be public or private? Casual or formal? Over lunch or by phone? What settings will be lest threatening and rejection-inciting?
 
How unfortunate it is for God and the Kingdom when ministers run roughshod in a multitude of inconsiderate ways. When these insensitive ministers experience rejection they ought to consider the pain of this kind of rejection a strong message to examine the character of their ministry.
 
Timing is also critical. Know when to intervene and when not to intervene. Consider the best way to intervene to avoid, insofar as possible, rejection. Perhaps the most important question to ask is, "What scenario will incite the least amount of fear for the rejecter and the rejected? What is ‘safe’?"
 
6) Build A Strong, Vision-Unified, Ministry Team. One of the best tools for ministry is to have a strong ministry team which shares the vision of the Word of God with the pastor. Vision has a way of dealing powerfully with fear. When people know where they are going and believe it is God's will to achieve a vision, this vision can ease anxieties and increase capacities for dealing with fear-driven rejection.
 
Share the vision with the staff, congregational leaders and the entire gathering of God's people often. As more individuals own the vision, those who would reject it must face the reality that they cannot simply reject the pastor. They must reject the leading of God among a unified, vision-directed people eager to see God's plan work among them.
 
7) Resource The Body of Christ. The whole Church in its various expressions—counseling, hospitals, other churches, brothers and sisters in ministry, internet resources, etc.— is a remarkably diverse tool to assist in a ministry of rejection. Resource and support them…often. After all, you're not the only one to whom God has given a ministry of rejection. If God has called us to share the Word, we ought also to share our experiences ministering this Word.
 
8) Understand The Dynamics Of Grief. "Grief is a funny thing." Sometimes the ministry of rejection experiences grief-driven fear responses. Responses made in grief ought to be first considered from their emotive implications, not their literal meaning. Don’t focus on the words. Instead, learn to listen to emotional content in the words. It is in the emotive interpretation that opportunities to deal with the wide range of fear issues exists.
 
9) Recognize That Fear Dominates Virtually Every Rejective Issue. The nature of original sin is that it causes fear. The worst fears may be those which challenge the deepest recesses of our spirituality and being.
 
This world is contaminated with fear, shame, and a natural hatred for God and His messengers. Knowing that it’s not the attack, the slander, put down, public humiliation, that’s central to the rejection puts everything in a different perspective. Understanding the fear-driven emotive dynamics present in virtually all ministry rejection puts an entirely different focus on the means of intervention.
 
Instead of having our energies powerfully directed toward vengeance, anger, retaliation, withholding forgiveness, and nursing our own hostilities (albeit under the guise of Christian piety), energies can be more constructively diverted toward ministering to the fear which so easily otherwise overwhelms us.
 
10) Recognize That The Power Of The Gospel Is Power Over Fear--Yours And Theirs. Whether one fears rejection, sickness, death, loss of status, failure, loneliness, unfair treatment, the bearer of the Gospel must recognize that though the things, events and people which trigger fear can be powerful, the Gospel is more powerful. It drives out all fear.
 
Fear is simply the response of an out-of-control human being still trying to keep control for oneself. The greater the fear, the greater the measure of being out of control…and vice versa. It is here where the ministry of rejection gains its greatest resource in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel message is a message of faith over fear. "Fear not" is the repetitive message of confidence.
 
11) Minister To Rejection While Claiming Victory! "Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?" proclaimed a Gospel-filled Paul in I Corinthians 15. A ministry of rejection moves confidently forward knowing that God has conquered the fear in Christ. That victory is so resounding that fears can be sneered, mocked and laughed at. That confidence is what the ministry of the Gospel is.
 
Too often those ministering to rejection get caught up in being sneered, mocked, laughed at and rejected. They get caught up in it because they are focused on self-justification and self-preservation. The key to success, however, is not to be on the defense in the face of rejection but, rather, on the offense. When those in the ministry of rejection understand that they are ministering to the fear in others, they can better minister to themselves, their own fears, and the fears of those attacking them.
 
12) Recognize That You're Not Immune. No pastor, minister or Christian is immune from rejection. No matter how faithful, honest, careful, caring, or well-intentioned one is, no one is immune from rejection. Misunderstandings will occur. Mistakes will be made. Rejection will happen.
 
Rejection is not only a part of ministry. It's a part of life. Just knowing that it can--and will--happen to us can give a certain strengthening perspective toward rejection. When we understand that rejection will happen and learn to live with it in the context of God's Word, we will more ably and non-anxiously minister to others who reject us.
 
Rejection: Learn to Live With It
 
Recently a former pastor shared his difficult, multiple rejective experiences in a small church in which he ministered. The cumulative result was that he resigned from ministry.
 
Reflecting on this resignation several years later, he lamented that he knew his ministry gifts were for ministry. He knew he could teach. He enjoyed visiting the sick. He relished the people side of ministry. He appreciated the opportunity the ministry offers to be a part of people’s lives that virtually no other calling offers. But he had one hang-up. He couldn’t deal with rejection.
 
Rejection, he felt, was worst from those passive-aggressive, indirect types who smiled to his face and scowled to his back. Repeatedly, he reflected, it was these who most frequently aroused his fears. For years he wondered just what it was about his personality that caused people to reject him.
 
Rejection: A Spiritual Gift???
 
Several years ago I shared how I had felt that I had a spiritual gift for "ticking people off." I thought I was unique until a few years ago when I realized that "ticking people off" is an integral part of the character of the ministry of rejection.
 
Though my wife claims that I am one of the most tactful persons she has ever met, the rejection still occurs. Tact, or any other approach, is no sure-fire security against the possibility of rejection. Nowhere is this more evident that in my pastoral counseling ministry.
 
A very large part of my counseling deals with divorce, depression, life-change, and other issues. Nearly all of these, it seems, are propelled by fears. Whether one fears the loss of competency, the loss of respect, the loss of control over their environment, or the loss of a loved one the common denominator is fear.
 
In order to deal with these fears, the fears must be identified. This painful process often results in tearful recognition of their deepest weaknesses. The recognition may surprise me as well as them. When the recognition of the fear occurs, the potential for growth occurs. When it doesn’t, their fear may demonstrate itself in a multitude of various emotive responses…all directed at me. Whatever their response, the focus must always be to minister the Word of God in such a way that it convicts and comforts
 
Understanding that the rejection is a function of their fears gives me the confidence of a sharpshooter. I need not attack them. If they attack me, I need not retaliate or become reactive. What is being dealt with is not a hostile personality exchange. Instead, it’s a transaction of fear. They bring to God’s servant their fears. Those called to the ministry of rejection minister to that fear with patience, self-control, love, and a pastoral sense of "give and take" to enable the process of healing to occur.
 
The ministry of rejection, however, is really a ministry of reconciliation. People cannot respond to the Gospel call if they cannot release their fears. Rooted in sin, these fears must be identified, confessed and released if reconciliation is to occur. Without this "Thou Art the Man" process which the prophet Nathan understood so well (II Samuel 12:1 ff), there is no spiritual growth, no reconciliation, no discipleship, no renewal, and no ministry.
 
The Real Purpose Of Ministry
 
We’re not necessarily in the ministry to make friends. Nor are we in it to make enemies. We’re in it primarily to make disciples for Jesus Christ. When the Gospel is working in the hearts of people, it arouses fears. These fears are often projected into multitudinous forms of rejection. Some are relatively mild; others outright hostile. These should be expected.
 
Samuel’s Rejection
 
One of Israel’s greatest prophets, Samuel, experienced one of the most disappointing rejections near the end of his ministry. Having appointed his sons as judges over Israel, the Israelites expressed to Samuel their disgust of the corruptness of their rule. "Give us a king!" they demanded.
 
Not knowing how to respond, he prayed to the Lord for guidance. God responded,
"'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.' Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king."     I Samuel 8:7-10 (NIV)
Some Insights Regarding Rejection
One ought to note several important elements relating to rejection. First, though rejected, Samuel did not himself retaliate against the rejecters. 
 
Instead, he wisely took the dilemma to the Lord in prayer. There he gained God’s insight that "it was not you they have rejected, but have rejected Me" (8:8). Perhaps one of the reasons that the ministry of rejection is so painful is because God's servants too frequently forget to pray.
 
Second, God's response to Samuel reminded him that it was God--not Samuel--who had experienced the greater rejection from the Israelites.
* Though the Israelites rejected Samuel's prophetic intervention, the Israelites also in essence rejected God's by repudiating His direct theocratic sovereignty.
 
* While Samuel's rejection was merely a one-time or infrequent occurrence God's rejection was repeated over and over and over again.
 
* Though Israel rejected one whom God had placed to minister to His people, God's rejection was greater in that His people were rejecting Him personally. Samuel was merely a minister among the Israelites. They were not his people. They were God's. Though the Israelites rejected Samuel's "doing," the greater rejection was in their rejection of God's being.
One need not be a Samuel to recognize that rejection is an inescapable part of ministry. Regardless of their confessed faith, it seems that God’s people just can’t help rejecting God and His servants over and over and over again. It didn’t surprise God. It ought not surprise us either.
 
Rejection: Jesus' Experiences
 
Some claim that the more rejection one experiences, the easier it gets. By the midpoint of His ministry well over 20,000 people who had at one time followed Jesus rejected Him. The "Feeding of the Five-Thousand" (not including women and children) was just one of many of Jesus' rejective experiences.
 
Who knows how many more tens of thousands rejected Jesus up to the time of His crucifixion? At the time of His crucifixion, there were only two of the most important of His disciples who hadn’t left—His mother and His disciple John. Isaiah wrote of His ministry of rejection.
"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)
Rejection And You
 
Rejection is never "easy." Repeated rejection can lead to deep disappointment in ministry. Perhaps the most important thing for God's servants is to recognize that the ministry of the Word is a ministry of rejection. As darkness must squint at any hint of light, so those shining the light of God’s Word will experience the spiritually disquieting rejective "squint" which God's Word incites in the hearts of the hearer. Those with ears to hear will hear. Those who will not will resort--sometimes desperately--to rejective responses.
 
How will you respond? Will you let their fear overwhelm and overwhelm your ministry? Will you be overcome by the various defense mechanisms which those who resist God's Word hurl in the face of God's faithful servants? Or will you learn to recognize rejection for what it is…a ministry opportunity just waiting to happen.
 
Yes, ours is a ministry of rejection. Reject it…or accept it for the glory and cause of the Kingdom of God.
Thomas F. Fischer 

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