Counted worthy to suffer
Photo by Simon
Few understand pain better than church leaders.
Missionaries and pastors regularly visit hospitals and counsel church members suffering devastating illnesses, deaths or other life challenges. Yet pain and suffering are not limited to the flock. Church leaders too encounter pain the same as everybody else. In many cases, we end up conducting funerals and are left to counsel and comfort the grieving family. But who attends to church leaders, missionaries in particular, when the same challenges of life visit them?
Unlike pastors, missionaries often work in remote places far away from anything familiar to them; the comfort of a normal environment, friends, family and the support of the church. Also unlike pastors, missionaries do not just attend to the needs of the flock; they also have to be their own ministry’s accountant, administrator, communications officer, handyman and clergymen of their soul and those they reach out to. Sometimes, married missionaries share the burden but when their ministries are separate, in a way, each has to attend to their own.
Sometimes the pressure can be very real and build up to frustration, frustration to anger, anger to stress and stress to depression.
Sometimes, we missionaries suffer in silence from a range of personal, work and spiritual issues. In those times, we cannot see Christ at work and simply want the emotional pain to subside. The weight of the conflict that rages inside us threatens to crush the ministry, our families and even our faith itself. We yearn for someone to talk to, someone who will actually listen and not just jump to a default response - “pray harder” or “pain and suffering is for your benefit.”
Sometimes, on a Sunday morning, we yearn to sit in pew, sing along to the familiar sounds of the hymns that birthed our passion and to take part in the fun activities of an established church.
Now being far away we often have to embrace difficulties and take things as they come.
Often we are told that pain and suffering is nothing but birth-pain, the sort to be endured because it brings joy on the morrow. Yet many have not lived to experience the joy in the next morning. For all the pain and suffering they were told was for their own good has metamorphosed into a newspaper headline of how they abandoned their faith, turned to drugs or other coping mechanisms.
In the modern era, the media is awash with stories of church leaders who have fallen from grace. It seems the newspaper and unregulated online publications go into overdrive upon learning of the fall of a church leader.
Oftentimes the reports are written to present the fallen leader and his/her message to be nothing but a decorated facade. The person is thrown into an abyss and left with little chance to rebound. The church takes a hit and people leave with a new faith of mistrust for everything regarding the Gospel.
Very few of the fallen leader’s leaders go back to ask why, for the result implicates them into the malaise. But that left unattended, we can be sure to read of a similar headline in the not distant future.
While it is true that church leaders are counted worthy to suffer, not all pain and suffering is for the person’s edification. Not all stories of illness results in healing, and not all stories of want end up with provision. We should always prioritize people above tasks and that should not be just rhetoric. The boundary line between who is responsible for what, between the church and the mission must also be clear, otherwise, it true that when two elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers.