When we’re tempted to take ministry failures personally

By Amy Rager

My kids are going through a stage in which they often start a conversation with their sibling by saying, “Don’t take this personal … ” follow by something like, “but your breath really stinks.” Amazingly enough, beginning with “Don’t take this personal” hasn’t been a miracle tool for delivering criticism. Hurt feelings still abound.

I’ve had many hurtful conversations with well-meaning people in the first, tender years of our church plant. 

“It’s not that we don’t love the vision behind your church, but we really want our kids to experience a more developed children’s ministry.”

“We love you and your husband, but right now we need more stability than a church plant can provide.”

Temptation to take successes and “failures” of church planting personally is overwhelming for church planters’ wives. After all, we’ve risked so much, put so much heart and soul into the vision; we’ve personally sacrificed to get the plant up and running. It almost feels like a rejection of our church plants are a rejection of us.

I love to see my feelings mirrored in scripture. It reminds me that my human condition is something God can work through and has worked through before in someone else. It reminds me that “no testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Also, in Mark 4, we are invited to observe the disciples—people who had also sacrificed much for Christ—as they experienced a situation full of uncertainty and chaos, taking Jesus’ reaction personally.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat… A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'” (Mark 4: 35-41)

I can so relate to the disciples’ question from the reading above. “LORD, do you not care that we are perishing?” I can imagine the hurt in their voices. The boat was flooding. The wind and waves were overtaking them while they were following Jesus’ orders! And yet, Jesus slept.

In Jan Johnson’s article, “Relaxing into Another Reality,” she explains that “Jesus was relaxed because spirituality is a matter of connecting with another reality. Jesus was relating to and functioning in harmony with this spiritual reality… He had trained himself to live on the life of God even in a physical, quite drown-able human body. He had the vitality and power and energy of the Kingdom of God in him. He was truly alive to the Kingdom of God. This gave him a force of a higher life. In short, he lived in experiential union with God.”

So, while all the disciples could focus on was the physical reality of water overtaking the boat, Jesus was focused on the spiritual reality of the situation. Therefore, He was unalarmed by the waves and even questioned the disciples’ faiths.

I used to think, “Why are you so afraid?” seemed like an odd question in the context of the passage. They were about to drown!

But Jesus seems to reply confirmed this truth—nothing is out of God’s control.

I reread the verses. Jesus’ response was an explanation as much as it was a lesson. It was like Jesus was saying, “Can’t you see? Nothing is out of control in My Father’s world. Look with your spiritual eyes. What you perceived as rejection was setting up a situation that brought about good for you. You now know you can’t do it. You can’t manufacture peace, calm, growth, or kingdom results. But now you’ve seen how easy it is for me. It’s all under control—so much so that I can sleep. Won’t you just have faith?”

Another scriptural truth explaining our need to be calm in storms or when someone says, “Don’t take this personal …” and trust God is found in 2 Corinthians.

“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

All of a sudden what happened or was said is personal but in a new way. God’s got this. He’s got things pieced together for His glory and for your good in such a way that all you have to do is relax, be patient and watch Him work.That’s personal.

Let’s train our eyes to see the spiritual realities and not just physical ones. Let’s be like C.S. Lewis, and resolve to “stand back from all our natural fussings and frettings and come in out of the wind.”

I’ll end with this verse of power and truth:

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Published March 13, 2017

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Amy Rager

Amy is the wife of church planter, Barry Rager, and the mother of four young, energetic children. She and her family served in established churches for 8 years before relocating to Indianapolis in 2013 to plant New Circle Church. Amy enjoys discipling women and is passionate about planters' wives. You can connect with her on Twitter @amylrager