By Kevin Ezzell
When I started as pastor of a previous church, the congregation had just been through a devastating time of hurt and grieving after the previous pastor resigned because of an affair.
But before healing could really begin, a lot of additional changes had to be made.
Staff members needed to transition out. Practices and processes needed to be eliminated or improved. Some members needed to leave as well. It was not an easy couple of years, to say the least!
I was yelled at, criticized, and accused many times. It hurt my wife. My kids were young and unaware of the details for the most part, but I battled every day not to bring the negativity home and let it impact my family.
Some days the only thing I had to cling to was the confidence that God had called me to this task and that He was walking with me through it.
If I had judged my success (or my value) on what people felt or said about me, I wouldn’t have lasted in those early years at that church.
Those days taught me a few things that continue to serve me well, and I think all pastors—especially those just starting in their ministry—would benefit from this advice.
Be confident in your calling
My time at that church, more than any other season in my life, solidified for me the importance of clarity and certainty about my calling as a pastor.
If I had not been certain God wanted me to be a pastor and that He had called me to serve that congregation, I couldn’t have stayed.
If I had stayed without certainty of God’s calling I would have been bitter, vengeful, angry, and downright miserable.
I loved being a pastor and shepherding a flock of believers. I still miss it every day.
But sometimes as a pastor, we have to speak words that people need to hear, which are not always words they want to hear. That often doesn’t bring a positive response, but it’s still what we’re called to do as pastors.
When you say what needs to be said in the way God wants you to say it, that is success—regardless of how people respond. You can’t measure success by how people react or whether or not they obey God’s Word.
Remember, your goal is to be at the center of God’s will for your life and for your calling. If we are doing what God created us to do, that’s all that’s required.
Man’s approval is never needed for our calling. God’s is.
Be clear about your identity
I’m grateful to have had an earthly father who loved me and demonstrated it. He gave me an identity here on earth that placed me on a clear path. I pray that I’m doing the same for my kids.
But as important as earthly fathers are, our heavenly father is much more significant. We must look to Him for our identity and value. We must believe what He says about us.
Every believer—and especially pastors—must have a strong sense of their identity in Christ.
We are God’s children. We are adopted into his family. We are accepted. We are crucified with Christ. We are alive in him. We are created in His image. We are chosen. We are His possession.
Most of us learn early in our pastorates that it’s not nearly enough just to know these facts of our identity in Christ. For them to be of any real help, we have to truly experience and embrace them.
Whenever we look toward someone or something on this earth to gain a sense of value, success, or approval, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
We might receive what we’re seeking for a while, but it will ultimately not be enough. Even when the feedback is positive, the satisfaction doesn’t last. And when the feedback turns negative, it can devastate us.
When we give what others say a higher priority than what God says, or when we compare ourselves to others, trouble inevitably follows. We belong to God, and He created us to receive our value only from Him.
The enemy tells us we are not smart enough, strong enough, or wise enough to be valuable. God tells us He will give us everything we need to fulfill our purpose on earth and to complete the calling He has given us here.
You don’t have to be Max Lucado, Francis Chan, or even Kevin Ezell. You need to be who God called you to be for the people to whom God sent you.
Seeking identity and worth through things other than God leads us down the path of people pleasing, and that’s a dangerous place for pastors to be!
People pleasing leads us to a host of destructive behaviors. We say yes to many things we shouldn’t. Then, by default, we have to say no to some things we should be doing. It ultimately puts others in control of our ministry.
When we’re confident in our calling and clear about our identity, we’re much better equipped to minister.
When people are critical or say hurtful things, we’re in a better position to minister and apply wisdom, instead of reacting out of our own lack of confidence.
We can forgive those who offend us. We can avoid many of the destructive behaviors that arise from the effort of people pleasing.
DR. KEVIN EZELL (@kevezell) serves as the President of the North American Mission Board. Excerpted and adapted from Before We Forget: Reflections from New and Seasoned Pastors on Enduring Ministry with permission from B&H Publishing.