If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you have already faced deep disappointment. Let’s be honest. No matter how good the church is, it is never what you want it to be. No matter how much it grows, you always want it to be better, to be stronger, and the people to be deeper. The very nature of ministry makes us so vulnerable to disappointment. The truth is, if you are going to be effective in ministry, you must learn how to walk through the bitter waters of disappointment with grace.
One of the best examples on dealing successfully with disappointment in the Bible is found in the life of Moses. No pastor put up with more complaining and lack of appreciation than he did. The people constantly questioned his motives, doubted his every decision, and were always quick to criticize him. It is only by the grace of God could any man withstand that kind of pressure.
In Exodus 15 we find one of the many times the people were upset with him. At this point he had successfully led them through the victory at the Red Sea. They had traveled for several days, and upon coming to Marah they found the waters were not fit for drinking. In fact, the waters were bitter. As was the congregation’s pattern, they turned against Moses. Of course, Moses cried out to God. After prayer, the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Upon throwing it into the waters, the bitter waters became sweet.
Now, within this simple story three powerful principles emerge that relate to ministry and disappointment.
First, I see where success in ministry is often followed by another great challenge. This challenge came just three days after the miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea. This was not a small problem Moses faced. He had three million people to care for and millions of animals, as well. So, this was no small problem, and you know this to be true. Every day in ministry brings new challenges.
This idea of great challenges following great victories is found throughout Scripture. Elijah’s victory on Mt Carmel was followed by a time of severe
depression for the prophet. After the great victory at Jericho, the people were met with failure at Ai. The point is, after a big success in ministry, watch out. Don’t be naïve. A greater challenge may be ahead.
Here is the question I want to ask you. What is the Marah in your ministry? I can tell you what it is. It is that thing that is distasteful, uncomfortable, disappointing, or upsetting to you. There are three primary sources of discouragement for ministers.
First, there is disappointment with things. Have you noticed that nothing is ever as good as it appears? Nor does every story have a happy ending like in Hallmark movies. Second, there is disappointment with events. How many times do we put our heart into some event at the church? While it may have been successful, if we are honest, the event didn’t fully produce what we had hoped for. Third, by far the greatest disappointment is with people. People often let us down. Some will criticize us. What is really hard is when you have loved someone and poured into them, and they turn on you. Betrayal is one of the hardest things to get over.
The truth is we all face some bitter waters in ministry. Maybe you are thinking: “Why does God allow this?” If you read Exodus 15 you will notice that in verse 25 it says the Lord tested them at Marah. The Scripture doesn’t say that about the Red Sea experience. Here is why! Our character is not tested in the great spectacular successes of life. Our character is tested in the daily irritations.
Our character is not tested in the great, spectacular successes of life. Our character is tested in the daily irritations.
Here is a profound truth. God’s character was revealed at the Red Sea, but man’s character was revealed at Marah. How we respond to disappointment reveals more about our character and spiritual maturity than anything else.
Second, in this story from Exodus 15 I also see that great service is often followed by forgetfulness. It has always amazed me what a short memory the Israelites had. Three days after their victory at the Red Sea they had fallen into unbelief and turned on Moses. Similar things can happen to those involved in ministry. People can forget quickly what you have done for them, how you have served them, how you have loved them, and how you have poured into them. When those times come, it is disappointing.
The question is, how will you respond to it? I would suggest we follow the example Moses gave us. He didn’t curse it or nurse it. Instead, he trusted God to reverse it. When I say "do not curse it or nurse it", I mean that you must not let the situation make you bitter and resentful. As hard as this is to hear, I know it to be the truth. When people disappoint you, there is an opportunity within the pain. It is the opportunity to become more like Christ.
Can you imagine Jesus going back to heaven before the Cross and saying: “I had a bad experience on earth. The people there didn’t listen to Me. Nor did they appreciate what I was trying to do for them. So I decided to come home early.” That certainly isn’t what the Lord did. He finished His mission, and so must you. That means you cannot let a bad experience in ministry knock you out of the game.
Moses responded correctly to the disappointment. He cried out. He gave all of his frustration to the Lord, and then the Lord began to turn the entire situation around. The Lord’s solution was to show him a piece of wood and that would turn the bitter waters sweet.
Here is something to consider. The Scripture specifically says the Lord showed him a piece of wood. God didn’t create a special piece of wood to use for this miracle. It had been there all the time.
Here is what I know to be true. We can get so caught up in the hurt and pain of our disappointments to the point that we fail to see God’s solution that is right before our eyes. You can’t see God’s solution in anger, bitterness, or resentment. That is why you have to cry out to God and look to Him to heal your heart. Only then can you see His solution.
We can get so caught up the hurt and pain of our disappointments to the point we fail to see God’s solution that is right before our eyes.
The third and final principle to emerge from this story is that great disappointments are often followed by greater victories. Immediately following this experience, they came to a place called Elim. The Scripture
said there were 12 springs, 70 palm trees, and an abundant supply of water there. In the middle of the desert they found an oasis, a place of absolute refreshment and abundance. This is what amazes me. Elim was just five miles from Marah.
There is a danger in ministry when it comes to disappointment. I am convinced that many in ministry get discouraged, throw in the towel, and quit when a greater victory was just a few miles down the road. What does this mean to you? Whatever bitter waters you may be experiencing, the Holy Spirit can make them sweet. That is why you can’t give up. You are doing a tremendous job where you are. You need to stay the course. God has the answer, and greater victories are ahead provided you do not give up.
Overcoming Disappointment is Entry TWO in Sanctuary's September series, On the Rebound || Rebounding From Hurt in the Ministry. Join us weekly as we share insight from guest bloggers who have sustained the injury and rebounded from hurt toward healing and hope. Share your thoughts below with us in the comments. What are your takeaways from Mike's post?
Mike Buie and his wife Pam have been married for 32 years. Mike has spent 40 years in full-time pastoral ministry and recently resigned from a pastoral term of nearly 30 years in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In their free time the Buie's love to travel to different parts of the country to see and experience new places. When asked what has shaped Mike's ministry philosophy, he shared, "The unique challenges and often unrealistic expectations placed on ministers today has given me both a compassion for those in ministry, as well as a fresh perspective on what is needed to finish one’s race." Mike's greatest joy comes when he can be a friend to a pastor, a support to church leadership, and an encouragement to local congregations. "While I enjoy filling in for pastors when needed and teaching in local churches, my greatest joy has been providing encouragement for church leadership teams. While some would call it leadership training, I define it as staff enrichment. The topics I often address include: Overcoming Disappointment in Ministry, How To Handle Criticism, Helpful Principles When Facing Big Problems, Earning The Right To Lead Others, Going The Distance In Ministry, Church Administration That Makes Sense, etc." If you and/or your ministry team are seeking staff enrichment for growth and development, contact Mike via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 918-694-0212.