By Ryan Rice
“I’ve changed,” one of my pastor friends remarked.
As we sat over coffee, he poured out his heart and discussed the struggles he was facing. He shared, “I feel as if the challenges of ministry have changed the way I view people.”
My friend didn’t have to share much more because I understood exactly what he was saying. We go into ministry with the heart and mind to serve God and love others, yet as time passes, our hearts can become cold and cynical towards people.
The reality of ministry is that people will come and go. One pastor shared we should be tied to people by a cord of love. We should never cling tightly but stand with an open hand knowing these are God’s people.
In John 6, Jesus even experienced the swelling and thinning of the crowd. The Bible tells us, “From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66).
If we’re following in the footsteps of our master, we must come to understand we’ll face these types of losses as well. When people leave our church, it’s easy to take it personally.
But look at Jesus’ response as He turns to His disciples: “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” (John 6:67)
It’s easy to focus on the crowds, especially in the moments when we feel abandoned. Jesus, however, focused on the true disciples, those who would remain.
When people leave our church, we feel the pain. We often blame ourselves, our preaching, or our leadership for their departure.
We can also pull away from others out of a fear of being hurt again. Instead of making disciples, we end up distancing ourselves from those who remain.
As opposed to walking in cynicism, try this:
1. Pray for those who decide to leave.
Yes, it may hurt when a person decides to leave the church. However, they don’t belong to us. Instead of walking in the hurt of their departure, pray for God to use them and to help them to find a new place to serve for His glory.
It’s difficult to remain upset when you’re daily bringing people before the Lord in prayer because they belong to Him.
2. Don’t be afraid to reach out to new people.
Reaching out to others after you feel let down can be one of the hardest things to do. There’s great joy, however, in meeting new people and inviting them to journey with you.
I once had a military family share how hard it was to make connections at a new church. This family was only stationed in a city for a couple of years before they had to move again.
One Sunday, I took a moment and just asked the dad to tell me about himself. We chatted for a few minutes and I then asked some follow-up questions. I didn’t make much of it, but he texted me later saying how much it meant that I’d take the time to have such a real conversation with him.
You never know who you can encourage by just reaching out.
3. Fear God, not man.
In our hearts, we must ensure that God is the reason why we serve people. If we fear losing people more than we fear God, we can end up falling into the people-pleasing trap.
This fear can lead us to avoid the very people we should confront. It can also keep us from challenging those who are apathetic among us. When we fear God and not man, we can walk with holy confidence.
In turn, we serve and love people better, because we aim to glorify God.
People are the reason we serve and love. God has given pastors the amazing joy of serving His people.
Let’s not allow a few people leaving to cause our hearts to grow cold. Let’s continue to serve, love, and live for His glory, even if the crowd thins.
Ryan Rice, Sr.
Ryan is husband to Seané, father of Ryan, Jr., Brayden, Reagen, and Bailey, and has been in ministry since 2007. He’s currently the lead pastor of Connect Church of Algiers in New Orleans, Louisiana, which they planted in 2014.
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