If you are going to be involved in Christian ministry you are going to experience rejection. This is a given, it is a normal part of the Christian experience. Though we may do all we can to minimize it, if we are faithful to the scriptures, we will not be able to avoid it completely. In some places in the world, places like China and North Korea, Christians pay a very high price for engaging in Christian ministry. A price that goes way beyond mere rejection.
In the United States hostility toward those who engage in Christian ministry is generally significantly less than in those places, but it exists nonetheless. All of you who are pastors already know about rejection. If we faithfully follow the Lord in obedience we will, at some points, experience it. This rejection can come from two places: the world and the church. We expect it from the world, but probably do not think of the church as a major source of it. However, Scripture and experience both demonstrate that one may encounter rejection from either (or both) of them.
When Jesus sent His disciples out on their first ministry trip (Matthew 10) He indicated that not everyone would accept their ministry. He told His disciples what to do when people would not welcome them or listen to them (Matt. 10:14). The message that they had been given would be offensive to some; their message was the kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 10:7), and the King of that Kingdom, of course, was Jesus. A little further down in the chapter Jesus told His disciples that people would hate them because of Him (Matt. 10:22).
This rejection was not a one-time thing—there are other accounts of them being rejected. This was true both for the original apostles (Acts 4:3; 5:18) as well as Christian ministers who emerged later (Acts 6:8-12; 7:54-59; 9:23-25). The same holds true today, there are many people in the world who reject Jesus, and in the process reject His messengers. In our pluralistic culture many do not like the Christian teaching that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Neither do they want His authority over them, they do not want His Lordship. Many people also do not like the stringent teachings of Scripture, as these run contrary to the natural sinful nature of humanity. These teachings identify as sin, not only acts or behaviors, but also internal heart conditions (Matt. 5:21-30). As Christian ministers we can expect a degree of rejection from those who do not accept the gospel message.
On one occasion I was speaking with a man who asked me what a Pentecostal was. Rather than launching into a discussion about our distinctive doctrine I decided to use this opening to present the gospel message. The church I pastored was located in a community that had a large Jewish population, so I said something like this “A Pentecostal is a person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah.” I will never forget this man’s response, he said “No way.” We did not have a very long conversation or any real conflict but I was amazed at how blunt he was. On another occasion I was asked to speak at a funeral home. Some Christian members of the family wanted a gospel presentation to be given there. I did not know the family but agreed to do as they requested. When I spoke there my message was interrupted with a question or two (which was fine). As I was leaving I noticed a man who looked at me with contempt. Though he spoke in a foreign language I believe he made a negative comment about me. I am sure that almost every pastor has stories similar to these. They go with the territory. Not everyone will accept the gospel.
One of the unhappy truths of Christian ministry is that leaders can also encounter opposition from those inside the church. This is disappointing, but should not be a total surprise to us, this also took place in the first century church. There are texts in the New Testament in which believers were told to respect and obey their leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17). These directives would probably not be in Scripture unless there was a need for them. That is, if people were respecting their leaders the inspired writers would not have included these directives in their letters.
We know from other biblical texts that Christian leaders did, in fact, experience rejection from other believers. The church in Corinth rejected Paul’s leadership (2 Cor. 10) and Diotrephes rejected the apostle John’s leadership (3 John 9). These rejections were not for valid reasons, some Christians were resisting the truth. As Paul wrote “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16 NIV). Similar situations take place today. When they do it is not only disappointing, it can also be stressful and draining. Conflict is rarely a positive dynamic.
While most people in a local church will agree with the major points of doctrine, which are usually spelled out in the articles of faith of the church, they may not agree on things that are not spelled out there. For example, a pastor might receive some static if he or she uses a Bible translation that is different from the one the church has used for years. Or he or she may hear complaints about the kind of music that is used in the service. These kinds of conflicts are not restricted to pastors. Anyone who is involved in Christian leadership or ministry can expect conflict to emerge from time to time. Sometimes it is due to misunderstandings, at other times it is due to strong differences of opinion. In many cases it is more about the issue than the messenger. And there are, of course, also other reasons why conflicts may take place. When these situations do arise they can leave the leader feeling rejected.
Rejection is a part of the ministry. Though it is painful, leaders must be able to get beyond it. In some cases this may take a bit of time. Leaders who hold to the truth will in time encounter people who will resist it. This is certainly true with regard to unbelievers. Some will be very nice in their rejection of the gospel message while others will be more hostile. The apostle Paul spoke about unbelievers who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10 NIV). These are people who exercised their free will to their own harm. They rejected the only way to salvation (John 14:6).
Leaders may also from time to time encounter an obstinate church member who resists or rejects the truth. In the midst of such painful circumstances it is helpful to remember that the approval of human beings is not to be our primary focus. Pleasing the Lord is to be our top priority (Acts 5:29). If we truly love Him (Matt. 22:37-38), and seek to be faithful to Him, He will see us through.
About the Author
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.