By Meredith Cook
At one point or another, many of us have experienced frustration with our local church, parachurch ministry, or denomination.
In fact, in just one week, I listened to someone express in no uncertain terms why he left a church. I heard about a parachurch ministry that was started because the “local church had failed in that area.” I read on Twitter various criticisms of my denomination.
If you’re a pastor, perhaps you find yourself frustrated with fellow pastors in your area or—on a larger scale—with a national denomination. If you’re a church member, you may complain about a different ministry in your church. I’ve criticized various ministries without attempting to engage in the work or lead change.
But those of us who choose to play armchair quarterback without getting our own hands dirty don’t have much of a leg to stand on. Why should others listen to our “corrections” if we’re not actively involved in becoming part of the solution?
I’m thankful for those who’ve corrected my bad attitude when I complained and encouraged me to press in rather than dislodge. I’m thankful for those who engage in ministry amid frustrations and setbacks.
And I want to encourage you with the following six ways to do the same.
1. Be Prayerful.
One of the greatest temptations we face in ministry is to strap on our boots and storm the gates without considering the need for prayer. We want to see progress and have a strong desire for instant gratification. But we should always arm ourselves with prayer first.
This is especially true in seasons of frustration. We should pray for clarity—perhaps the “problems” we perceive don’t exist in reality. We should pray for humility as we work to solve actual problems.
We should pray that our frustrations won’t get the better of us. We should certainly pray over the ministry in question—for conflict to be resolved, problems to be fixed, and growth to occur.
2. Be Present.
Even if the state of a ministry isn’t how you want it to be right now, it’s important to be involved in it anyway. Our presence allows us to listen and hear from those who’ve been working from the beginning.
It should give us further clarity on the true state of things and perhaps calm our concerns. The reality may not be as bad as we think.
And if there are problems to be fixed, engaging in that ministry should give us opportunities to speak into things, to become leaders, and to help in whatever way we can. It provides us with an opportunity to serve others regardless of the circumstances.
3. Be Patient.
Change takes a long time. Believers don’t always see eye to eye and emotions can run high when we’re discussing topics we deeply care about.
Some will not want to change. Some may want different things to change. And some may simply disagree on methods and strategies. We all have our limitations and blind spots.
In these moments, remember it likely took years for a ministry to get to where it is now, and it will likely take years for it to change. Exercise patience and show grace as you work toward these changes.
4. Be Positive.
It’s easy to get discouraged when progress seems slow. We often feel that for every one step forward we take two steps back.
But as you’re in the thick of it, focus on those working alongside you to see progress. Be encouraged. You’re likely not alone. Celebrate the victories and let those motivate you to keep working.
5. Be Perceptive.
In most cases, we should stay the course and press in to lead change. But we must be perceptive for those times when it would be God-honoring to back off.
One of those times is if a church or ministry is adhering to unbiblical doctrine. We need to be cautious, though, when it comes to labeling things we disagree with as “unbiblical” or “unorthodox.” We should be clear on primary, secondary, and tertiary issues.
We may decide to leave because of the questionable character of other leaders. Again, this takes great discernment.
Simple disagreements or misplaced priorities are not necessarily signs of unfit character. There are times, however, when it’s appropriate to step away from a church or ministry due to the realization the leadership is spiritually toxic.
6. Be Self-Aware.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must know ourselves. We cannot serve or lead when we’re unfit to do so.
We must be self-aware and humble enough to step back when we’re burned out, when we’re bitter, and when we have unchecked sin in our own lives. To attempt to lead when our character is questionable is not good for us nor those we serve.
Note these are not reasons to disengage from the local church altogether—nor does it license us to return to our armchair quarterback position.
To the contrary, these are reasons to press further into our church community for encouragement, accountability, and spiritual growth. We can still prayerfully support a ministry, even if we’re not directly involved.
Leading change isn’t an easy task, but it’s worthwhile. Rather than wallow in frustrations and give in to the temptation to complain, let’s make ourselves part of the solution—whatever that solution may be and however long it might take.
Meredith is the wife of Keelan, an editor for IMB.org, and an M.Div graduate in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.