By Taylor Combs
“He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”—John 1:10-11.
The introduction to the Gospel of John tells of the glorious Word of God made flesh. Jesus, the One through whom all things were created and for whom all things exist put on flesh and dwelt among us.
It seems His arrival should be met with a parade, fireworks, a celebration of God the Son coming to live among us. But instead, we see rejection. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).
Jesus’ life and ministry was one of continual rejection. And at the end, He was abandoned by His followers, directly betrayed and handed over to death for the price of a slave.
If the Son of God faced such rejection, shouldn’t His followers—especially those who serve in ministry—expect the same? After all, “A servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20).
Ministry is a beautiful and thrilling call, and if the Lord has called you to it, there’s no other place you should be. But be prepared—rejection will come in its various forms, bringing frustration and doubt in its wake, seeking, if possible, to get you out of ministry.
Here are just a few forms of ministry rejection you should expect to face.
1. Rejection of Your Leadership
A call to ministry is a call to servant leadership. We rightly emphasize the “servant” half of that equation. Jesus taught us that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25–26).
Yet we can’t overlook the “leadership” half the equation. A call to ministry is a call to lead.
Those in ministry usually make decisions—decisions about the church’s programs, finances, or buildings. They have to set long-term and short-term vision and direction. They have to exercise church discipline.
They have to say “yes,” to the best things, “no” to bad things, and, often, “no” to good things that just aren’t the best things! And this frustrates people.
Disgruntled church members will often not want to follow your lead. They may express this frustration in a text message, email, or snide remark—not truly wanting to change anything, but simply wanting to express their dissatisfaction.
Or they may gossip and complain that things “just aren’t the way they used to be.” This isn’t the way it should be, but as you lead, you’ll experience pushback.
2. Rejection of Your Style
You also might face rejection because of your ministry style. This most often confronts those involved in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, and especially those who are new in their role.
If you’re a stoic, emotionally neutral preacher, you may be negatively contrasted to those with a more charismatic style. If you’re an illustration and application-heavy teacher, you may be regarded as “too light.” If you’re serious and straightforward, you may be labeled “heady.”
Of course, these labels are exaggerations and stereotypes; nothing about being application-heavy means you’re a “light” preacher, nor does being serious make you overly intellectual.
Yet, you can expect to hear murmurings like this, and doubt or comparison can creep in—doubt that you’re a good enough preacher, or comparison to other preachers who are “better” than you.
But God is sovereign, not only over your calling, but even over your personality and style. He’s called you to lead in your church, not someone else. Yes, we should always improve, but let us not cave to a grumbling rejection of personality or style. God has called you to be yourself in the pulpit, and that’s the only person you need to be.
3. Rejection of Your Advice
One of the most painful types of ministry rejection comes in the form of rejected advice. Sometimes this advice-giving is more passive, in response to someone seeking wisdom; sometimes it’s more active, stepping in when you see a brother or sister walking a dangerous or unwise road.
When your passive advice is rejected, you’re left wondering, Why did you ask my advice in the first place if you were just going to reject it? When your active advice is rejected, you’re left wondering, Why did I put myself on a limb to step into that situation? Should I just mind my own business?
Of course, we should be wary of our advice-giving coming from a desire to be in control, or simply arising from a place of nosiness. Yet, as a minister, part of your calling is to use the full counsel of God’s Word to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
To use the Word of God this way is to risk painful rejection. But some things are worth risking rejection for.
4. Rejection of Your Friendship
Ministry can be a lonely venture. It’s hard to know who you can trust and who really wants to be your friend.
Jesus told His disciples before His crucifixion, “I do not call you servants anymore . . . I have called you friends” (John 15:15). But hours later, every last one of those friends abandoned Him. They wanted something from Him—the clout and authority that came with hanging around a Messiah—more than they wanted Him.
But Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah they expected.
Many people in our churches don’t want friendship with ministers; they want the clout and authority they think comes with hanging around leaders. People will befriend you and expect something from you. The couple who takes you to lunch on your first Sunday may turn into your biggest critics when you don’t give them what they desire.
There’s no way around it—rejected friendship is painful.
5. Rejection of Biblical Teaching
Of course, there is another kind of rejection—a kind that feels personal, but is really not at all.
In every church—even the most doctrinally sound ones—there will be a rejection of some of biblical truth. Some may rejection biblical doctrines, like the exclusivity of the gospel or God’s teachings about gender and sexuality.
Others may reject the application of biblical commands by mistreating their spouse or children, or separating from the life of the local church.
What do you do when those you’re called to shepherd with God’s Word outright reject God’s Word? Of course, the answer to this question depends on the type of rejection. Some matters calls for the exercise of church discipline; others call for involvement of local authorities.
When it comes to this kind of rejection, remember this isn’t about you. The person rejecting God’s Word, despite how you may feel, isn’t rejecting you. There’s a bigger conflict here than leadership, style, advice, or friendship—there’s a heart that’s in conflict with the Savior.
So how do you respond? You plead and you pray. You plead with this brother or sister not to go down the road of rejecting God’s authority and God’s Word.
You plead with them to see the end of their ways and the futility of their actions. You plead with them to see the beauty and glory and grace of Jesus so that they won’t turn to something less fulfilling, less satisfying.
And you pray. You pray that God would soften their hearts. You pray that He would call them to repentance.
How Can We Survive Ministry Rejection?
The good news is, we can survive ministry rejection. We have a Savior who’s far greater than us, who experienced far worse rejection than us, and who will sustain us.
Here are a few truths I’ve learned that Jesus has used to sustain me through the ministry rejection I’ve experienced in my time leading in the local church.
God can sustain me through unresolved tension.
One of the most difficult parts of rejection is when it remains unresolved. Sometimes the critics of your preaching style stay in the church. And sometimes the person who rejected your friendship keeps showing up.
How do you move ahead? In faith, one step at a time. God will sustain you.
God can protect my reputation; I don’t have to.
One of the great temptations during ministry rejection is to control the narrative by telling everyone your side of the story. You don’t have to do that. God can sustain your reputation.
Don’t project a guilty conscience by building an army for battle; be like Joseph, who endured injustice after injustice with integrity. Better yet, be like Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, but didn’t open His mouth to defend Himself.
Courage is a rare but necessary virtue.
Without courage, we’re not long for the ministry life. It’s an absolute requirement. But using it isn’t fun, and attaining it is less so. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the absence of self. It’s the walk of faith of one who trusts the Lord, who waits on the Lord, and who moves ahead in integrity, come what may.
Cultivate courage; it will serve you well.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, left His throne in heaven to come to earth, face rejection, and die for sinners. His suffering was redemptive; it literally redeemed all who trust in Him.
Your suffering as a minister can be redemptive, too. Not in the same way, of course—you’re not dying any atoning deaths for anyone. Nonetheless, as you suffer ministry rejection, you’ll see more of Jesus.
And as you do so with integrity, the people you shepherd will see more of Him, too.
TAYLOR COMBS (@combstaylor_ ) is an associate publisher for B&H Publishing and is active in the teaching ministry at Grace Community Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. He holds a master of divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.