Jesus and the Culture of Confrontation

Much has been posted online and in social media of a young pastor who recently committed suicide after battling depression.  It's a tragic account of the weight that ministry can bear on a leader and the associated toll it can take on one's emotional, spiritual and even physical health.  And while suicide seems to be an outcome becoming more common in recent years, depression itself is not all that unusual in ministry or its ministers going back centuries and even millennia. 

One of history's greatest preachers, Charles Spurgeon, battled depression often and spoke about it candidly.  He had learned to accept it as an expected part of ministry in a unique way.  Rather than finding life and the Lord's work to be hopeless or daunting, he viewed his bouts of depression as a hopeful thing - a season that would eventually change like Winter to Spring in due time.  His depression was something to be endured as it gave birth to a season of abundance or fruitfulness from the Lord.  He wrote...
"Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer blessing. So have far better men than I found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the filling of the Holy Ghost. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn."
We would all do so well to reframe our emotional downturns as something so hopeful especially in a culture that propagates hopeless.

The link of depression to ministry can also be found throughout Scripture.  The prophet Elijah had been the front-man in a showdown between God and Baal.  King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel were so angry they threatened to take his life.  He ran in fear and found himself in a cave in utter despair  literally wanting to die.  The treatment for his depression?  Sleep and nourishment and he got away from it all for a while. 

The all-to-often culture of confrontation in ministry, I believe, is the root of such emotional trauma and stress.  There are just churches that have every decision questioned, every change fought against, any preference challenged.  And this culture that makes so much of promoting what we're against or who we defy is even more oppressive with its many platforms.  While social media is a valuable tool for communicating with church members and engaging outsiders, the culture of confrontation is a runaway train in those platforms.  Social media platforms are a pop-up book of aggressions, grandstanding, and bullying that can, at times, feel inescapable.

I can't speak for the young pastor in Chino, California, but the turmoil of confrontation was certainly true of Elijah and believe it or not, it was true of Jesus.  Take a look at the beginning of John chapter 4.  It reads curiously if it's not read in light of the toll personal conflict can have on ministry leaders. 
"Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than Johnalthough in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee."
The Pharisees were stirring things up again with completely wrong information, and Jesus' response was not to respond.  He just walked away.  There's a lesson in that, isn't there?  It's not necessary to accept every invitation to an argument that is offered.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away.  Jesus knew the confrontation was looming, but it wasn't unavoidable. The battle against "fake news" wasn't winnable, so He left.  He was tired.  Verse 6 of John 4 tells us He stopped at the well near Samaria and sent the disciples into town to find lunch because He was weary.  Folks, confrontation can wear.you.out.

 But Jesus didn't just leave because of the conflict.  He left to redirect His energies.  Rather than mix it up with the religious elite, He got back to the core of His mission - to leave the ninety nine and find the one who needed Him, the one who was lost and hopeless.  And in His weariness, He found strength.  He was rejuvenated by talking with this woman who was far from religious and even further from hope.  She genuinely was searching and had questions, but she couldn't break out of her past.  And Jesus found her, removed the shame of her past by not being surprised by it and eventually offered her a future she could never have imagined.  By the time the disciples returned, His energy was restored simply by getting back to what was most important to Him...  drawing people who are far from God into a relationship with Him.

If you're not a ministry leader, you might wonder what this blog has to do with you.  To you I would simply say Hebrews 13:17 is truer than ever...
"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."
In a culture of confrontation, what is the advantage of emotionally wearing out someone who loves you and is actively strategizing your spiritual growth.  Be kind.  Be encouraging.  You don't always have to be the voice of dissent or the guardian of the way things used to be.  Learn to trust them and let them serve with joy. You'll find joy in following them in return.

And for my fellow ministry leaders, to you I would say pick your battles. Pick fewer battles.  That's too many battles.  Put some back.  Walk away from the drama and even from the ninety nine.  Find the one who needs Jesus most. Remember why you became a minister to begin with.  And as my friend in ministry always says, "Keep bringing people to Jesus and let the critics whine."  You could find the energy you need to keep going.

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