The Danger of Cynicism In Ministry

Sometimes you don’t see how far you’ve come until you see how far you’ve been. Once in a while I read old journals and thoughts I had about things in the past. This was one of those times.

In December 2013 I was miserable in ministry. All of 2012 I had been seriously contemplating leaving my fellowship. I was sad that people didn’t care about evangelism the way I did. We were in a perpetual decent into complacency and apathy; nothing I tried seemed to work. That sadness turned to resentment, bitterness, and at moments — anger.

My new pastor that took over the ministry in 2012 had some big ideas and was motivated to make some real positive changes. He had shared with me his vision for the fellowship, and I was actually getting excited. There was hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to give it one more year, and if things didn’t go in the positive direction, my wife and I would leave. This was the account of my last straw.

Reading through my 2014 journal entries, it was a miracle I survived at all. During a leadership meeting to kick off the Pastor’s vision, an elder set the tone and said in front of the entire congregation that he was not going with me to evangelize on the street and that he opted out to do other things. Shortly after that, two people on my team left the church to seek fellowship elsewhere. Depressed, discouraged and tired of hearing people say, ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t,’ I was zealously determined to push forward and take care of the outreach portion I was asked to. Even if it meant doing it by myself.

At this time, my mentor who left the fellowship a few years prior was temporarily staying with me as he looked for a place to live. One afternoon I was watching the Way of the Master Basic Training Course (WOTM) that I was preparing to teach. Coming home from work, he walked through the front door and asked, “What are you watching?”

“The Way of the Master Basic Training Course, ” I said confidently.

“People aren’t going to do that. You’re wasting your time. ” And proceeded to tell me how may times he’s tried to do it, how complacent the church was, and how they much rather feed people behind a counter as they go to hell not knowing anything about the gospel.

Welcome to month one.

The several months that followed got worse and worse. Work was beyond stressful, and my boss was coming down on me for the first time in my career. The day I started the WOTM, I got hit with a lawsuit for something I didn’t do, and debt collectors were calling for a loan I never made. I was beyond stressed. People in my Romans bible study were encouraging me to pack it in, that I’ve had enough, and I just needed to give up for my own health and sanity. My cats, who are brothers started fighting really bad, and we had to separate them for a while, one had to go to the vet hospital. Less than a month later I got hurt at work and broke a finger on my right hand. To make matters worse, my wife looked at me at the end of all of this and said, “I miss the man I fell in love with back in 1996.” Even though I wasn’t saved back then, I missed him too. I had trouble in every area of my life, and there was nowhere to run but up. I was beyond disappointed; I was bitter, cynical, angry and I was ready to pack it in and be done. I was broken and no matter what I prayed it felt like God wasn’t listening either.

In a last ditch effort, I called my friend and former Pastor to talk even though he was in another country. He gave me some advice that resonated with me even to this day that he learned from an older missionary couple in Costa Rica.

“There are two types of missionaries: those who get bitter, and those who get better.”

Yes, I was going through a real tough time. Yes, there were things that was happening in my life beyond my control. But it was how I was reacting to those things that really was the problem in my life. I had to focus on what I could control: my cynicism. Nothing kills ministry more effectively than cynicism. You cannot lead a healthy ministry when your worldview is jaded by disappointment, lethargic people, and bitterness. Here are some of the consequences cynicism will severely hinder your ministry over time, and take a toll on it’s leader most of all.

It will cause you to not love others the way you should.

There are so many reasons why this is number one. We do ministry to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love others as ourselves. We can’t do that when we are cynical towards them. A cynical heart and mind tells you that you cannot trust anyone, can’t forgive them when they wrong you, can’t hope for the better, and that people are incapable of changing for the better.

But what would we be without hope? We would be unsaved. According to 1 Corinthians 13, hope is wrapped in love. Hoping for the best is a part of love. It helps us move forward and look with optimism towards the future. It keeps us from giving up. When we have that optimism we know that we are not doing ministry in vain. What we do matters, even if we do it alone.

We, the church are the hands and feet of Christ, and we need to work together. It starts first with love, which is the glue that holds it all together. When I’m cynical towards my brother and sister, things unravel, and that three-fold cord unravels.

You’ll be Afraid or Unwilling to Take Risks

Risk is a part of any ministry, especially evangelism. There is so much risk involved, but if we are afraid of doing something because we are tired or dismayed by the rejection we may face by my brother or sister in the faith, we will miss great opportunities that the Holy Spirit is wanting to do with us. We cannot dwell on past failures, or how people reacted to things you wanted to do prior to the latest idea. Dwelling on the past always leads to cynicism, but being optimistic and moving forward is the key to maintaining steadfastness in the faith.

People sometimes frustrate our ideas and plans because they are afraid themselves, don’t want to do the work, or even lazy. As an Evangelist or leader in ministry — that is not your problem. You need to motivate and help them as much as possible, see the added benefit of what you plan to do. If they don’t see the benefit, fellowship with other believers who do. Maybe their testimony will be the fire that is needed to set the spark of your ideas aflame.

Cynicism Will Frustrate Your Creativity

Frustration in the simplest terms is not a feeling, it is a verb — something that happens. The people perish with a lack of vision. There is a saying among Evangelists towards the church; that we belong to a group called: Club Frustration. It’s a dance club, where the Evangelist dances to the beat of the Pastor and Elders and are not given the freedom to do what he knows he needs to do. The constant barrage of, “No’s” leaves the Evangelist feeling as if he or she is a second-class Christian. All their good ideas are filed away in the trash can.

But does this have to be this way?

Staying disillusioned and distrustful of others will not bring life to your vision — but kill it. Sometimes we have to step back and regroup. Maybe the idea is too grand or big for others to get onboard or even see that it is possible. Instead of eating the whole cake of our big idea, perhaps all we need to do is take a bite-sized piece and give it to someone to taste. Let it melt in their mouth, savor the flavor of the idea, and when their eyes widen in amazement they say, ‘You know, that was really good.’

We are not “Spinal Tap;” our amps don’t go to 11. When we feel like we are not being heard, we don’t yell louder. We need to step back, regroup, and try a different approach for others to see the benefit of our ideas.

What if your idea really does suck?

We need to take creative criticism on the chin. Maybe what we really need is to look in the mirror and ask if it’s us. I’m not saying give up on your idea, but more often than not, we need to swallow our pride and get ourselves out of the way.

There were times in my life I frustrated my own walk. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m probably still doing that. Self-sabotage is our own fault, not others — hence the name. If someone is willing to give us the hard truth, we need to be willing to listen to it.

Ten year fog

In the beginning of this article, I shared frustrations half way through my sanctification. That was then, this is now. Now, I am one of those leaders in my fellowship. As I look back on how I felt ten years ago, I have to honestly look in the mirror and ask, “Was I ready?” Even more so, I have to answer, “No I wasn’t.”

But, like the advice I gave earlier, it’s time to move forward.

Valuable lessons have been learned through the past decade. Besides not letting myself become cynical, allowing the process to take place. Taking risks and making my own path was helpful. But most of all — not quitting. Not allowing my anger or frustration to overtake me. I wouldn’t be in the trusted position I am now.

When inside a thick fog it is impossible to see. We can’t control the fog; we just have to wait for the sun to shine through and shed light on the situation. Time can heal many wounds — if you let it.

Pushing Through The Pins and Needles

This picture brings up a few good points. Though I don’t agree with it completely, it opens my eyes to the fact that when it comes to apathy, it’s not always the fault of the church leadership. It does matter that a person goes to a Bible-believing and teaching church. It does matter where the sheep get fed, and that we worship God in spirit and in truth. We need that good teaching and doctrine. But if the people are not moving, it’s not always the leadership that is the cause. Yes, many times the leadership frustrate evangelism efforts, but this frustration can come from stubborn church members.

Disheartened Pastor

I once sat down and had a great conversation with a pastor from a denomination I do not normally attend or fellowship with. He was young, vibrant, and had a heart to see God’s Kingdom grow and flourish. His desire was to be the best shepherd to his flock he can possibly be, and it showed. But his congregation didn’t want to move. They were perfectly content just attending church as long as it is less than an hour each Sunday. They had been apathetic for generations and in many ways they reached atrophy. Some pushed back the pastor’s every effort to advance the church while others were fearful to move forward for many different reasons. Most of them liked their space and were comfortable where they were at. He even said a guy told him, “We got a good thing here Pastor, don’t ruin it for us.” There were some, though very few, of their body that were excited about moving forward, and were ready to get to work.

Pins and Needles

When church members have been asleep for so long, some of the body of Christ are numb and have no feeling. It is written that the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). When blood flow to different parts of the body is cut off or frustrated, those parts get numb, immobile, and useless. If it is a leg, you cannot walk; an arm, you cannot grab or hold. If not dealt with quickly, it can lead to many health problems, and at worse — amputation, where those parts are literally cut off from the rest of the body.

In other church members, the blood is starting to flow and the intense pain of pins and needles has started, but the body parts are afraid to move. You know that feeling when your leg is asleep and you are afraid to walk or even stand for that matter. The intense pain lasts minutes, and there is nothing you can do but ride it out. Same with church members and leadership that are waking up. It hurts. It’s painful. It can be scary. Things seem so uncertain. But it is necessary for it to happen. The good part is that in the waking up — it doesn’t last forever. It is for a moment.

Those other parts of the body that are ready. The needles are gone, and it’s time to get moving. You know the saying, “Poop of get off the pot.” These are the parts of the body that have rested long enough. The leadership and congregation see lights at the end of the pins and needles, the pain is gone. Time to get walking, there are things to get done.

The Parts No One Ever See – The Core

But, do you know what parts of the body never fall asleep? The core. The vital organs like the heart, liver, and brain. Everything from skin to organs in the torso never have pins and needles. Why? Because all the blood flows freely and never gets impeded. I encouraged that young pastor to focus on those who wanted to move and grow. I asked him to name just five people in his church that he could rely on, never complain, and do what you ask them to do without fail. “Focus on the core and in turn their lives and stories would impact those around them.” In time he began to see those who were asleep show signs of life and positive activity among the body. They were not only influential under their own roof, but the entire town as well.

Two Sides to Every Coin

There are two sides to every coin, and this is no different. Apathy in the church can come from two different sources: the leadership and/or the congregation. As Evangelists, we must encourage church leadership to take the helm and sail the ship into the uncharted waters of outreach, and also to encourage the parts of the body to start to move and feel the necessary pins and needles when the shepherd and leadership are ready to get out to do the work of the ministry.

Now That I am in leadership myself

A perpetual saying among evangelists is that we belong to, “Club Frustration.” Frustration is what we sometimes feel, but in every sense of the word it means to prevent (a plan or attempted action) from progressing, succeeding, or being fulfilled. This thwarting of the gospel can come from shepherds as well as the sheep — both sides of the coin.

For the past nineteen years I have been on the side of tails; maybe even “chasing my tail” so to speak. But now I have this unique opportunity to flip my coin and land on heads for a while. What does this mean for me in this new role of Church Elder? I get to experience what it is like being on the other side of the complaints I’ve had all those years. It means that I personally, must take that helm and lead the congregation into these uncharted waters. I must do the work of the office of Evangelist and equip the saints for the work of ministry and edify the entire body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–16).

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