Ministry is a privilege. Most of us start off in ministry with open hearts. But whether you’re on church staff, married to the minister, or involved as a lay leader in your congregation, sooner or later you find that ministry can also be hard–even painful. When we get hurt in ministry, often our first response is to pull back from the things that hurt us. So we stop reaching out. We don’t put our whole selves into it anymore. We hold back–going through the motions of kindness without risking our hearts.
But those walls we erect to protect us also separate us from the people we need to embrace. Love comes with risk, and ministry means loving the church enough to risk the pain. We choose to minister with open hearts because Jesus is worth it. What he does in and through his body is worth it–worth suffering for. Worth laboring for. Worth risking for. Worth loving. When we encounter the painful side of ministry, we can still choose to minister with a wide-open heart.
As he does so often, the Apostle Paul shows us the way:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
2 Corinthians reveals the history of Paul’s rocky relationship with the Corinthian church. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to several issues in the congregation, including lawsuits among the believers, factions within the church, and a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul remained at Ephesus until he heard that his letter had not accomplished its purpose. In addition, a group of false teachers had come to Corinth who challenged Paul’s integrity. Paul made a brief visit to Corinth to remedy the situation–a trip that turned out to be a painful visit. He wrote the Corinthians a second letter–now lost to time–that is sometimes referred to as the “sorrowful letter.” Finally, Titus brought word that the situation at the church had improved. That improved and restored relationship motivated Paul’s third letter–our 2 Corinthians–as he prepared to make another trip to Corinth.
Paul had every excuse to wash his hands of the Corinthians. They had tolerated sin in the congregation. They had accepted false teachers. They had maligned his reputation and integrity. But as a father pleading with his children, Paul begged the ‘Corinthians to repent and reconcile with him and with God. Paul chose to minister with an open heart.
How did Paul find the strength to continue to minister with an open heart? 2 Corinthians offers us four clues:
Paul chose to please God rather than people (2 Corinthians 5:11).
Paul didn’t define his success by what the Corinthians thought about him. He measured his success by what God thought about him. His goal was pleasing God, not people. That goal helped him minister with an open heart.
Paul was compelled by Christ’s love (2 Corinthians 5:14).
At his core, Paul was convinced that Christ had died for all people. That rock-solid conviction compelled his ministry. As Christ had opened his heart to Paul, so Paul chose to open his heart to others. He chose to let God’s love flow through him to the Corinthians–even when that ministry proved painful.
Paul chose to see others from God’s point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16).
He refused to assign labels or regard others from a worldly point of view. Instead, he chose to see the Corinthians as people for whom Christ had died. He saw the potential of who Christ had made them to be, and he kept urging them to be reconciled to God. Seeing people from God’s perspective helped him keep his heart open toward them.
Paul maintained his integrity, even when ministry brought suffering (2 Corinthians 6:3-10).
Paul resolved not to let his actions discredit his ministry. Whatever circumstances he was in, whatever people said or believed about him, Paul was determined to remain faithful in the eyes of God. He refused to let pain drive him to actions that would give people an excuse not to believe his message. He acknowledged the cost, but he chose to remain faithful.
Paul experienced the painful side of ministry, but he chose to keep his heart open. We can make the same decision. There will be painful seasons in ministry. Choose to love anyway.
Paul experienced the painful side of ministry, but he chose to keep his heart open. We can make the same decision. Click To Tweet There will be painful seasons in ministry. Choose to love anyway.Click To Tweet
Q: What helps you keep your heart open in ministry? What does it look like to minister with an open heart?
To learn more about healing from ministry hurt, read RENEWED: A 40 Day Devotional for Healing from Church Hurt and for Loving Well in Ministry.