Resenting the People – a Minister’s Trap… with Room for All

By Keith Miller | June 1, 2010

Hi Keith!  Here’s a question about something that’s been bothering me for quite a while.   I’ve been a minister for over ten years.  For most of that time, I have felt very fulfilled even though I’ve worked really hard in the many roles of being a pastor, a preacher, a counselor, a visitor to the sick, etc.  But for the past year or so, this feeling of resentment is creeping into my life, especially when I’ve had a really busy week and somebody asks me to add one more thing to my schedule.  I’m praying about it to find out what it might mean, and I wanted to ask, have you ever felt similar feelings in your work?

Well, I’m glad you brought that up.  I became aware that I had feelings of resentment toward people I’ve felt called to “serve” one morning while I was in another town (away from home), visiting a pastor friend of mine.  It started very early that morning, when he came to my motel to pick me up.

“Good morning!” he said—too brightly, it seemed to me—“Did you get a good night’s sleep?”

I just looked at him for a few seconds as he walked past me into my motel room.  He had to be kidding.  This man had brought me back to the motel after midnight from the meeting with college kids, after the reception, after the big meeting in the church’s sanctuary…which had come on the heels of a small dinner party.  I had arrived in town about five o’clock from an all-day flight, following some similar marathon-type church meetings the week before.  Just before he said good night at the motel he had announced that at 6:30 the next morning he was picking me up to take me to an “informal breakfast” he had arranged where I was to speak to about forty men.  I was so tired that I felt a little sick at my stomach.

Actually, I like the man who was standing there talking to me.  He is a great guy and I think he is honest, courageous, and a deeply committed Christian minister.  But something was definitely wrong between us.  Then I recognized my feeling—resentment, raw resentment, and I had not even been able to admit it consciously.  I was mad at myself, too, for letting him get me into all this.  I recalled telling him over the telephone before I came that I was very tired and had three strenuous days of meetings immediately following my stop off with him and I was looking forward to a visit with him.  He had called back and said he planned a gathering for me to get acquainted with a “few of the people” who had been involved in small groups in his church.  But the real purpose of my stopping, as I had understood it, was so that the minister and I could have some time to hang out.

The intimate dinner party was pleasant, but there was a large crowd of more than a hundred people at the meeting after dinner.  I was happy to speak with them since I have always tried to help small groups develop.  Then after I spoke, there were thirty minutes of direct questions—followed by two later “unscheduled” meetings.  To have refused to speak again would have seemed to me at that time to be un-Christian, even though I was exhausted.  I guess I had expected him to “protect me” or say “no” for me, but since he did not, I was resentful and was mad at myself too.  Why was I angry, though?  Everything had gone well, and I am committed to witnessing, to giving my life to Christ and His people.  We didn’t have any time to visit—which was what I thought was the purpose of our meeting.  I woke up resenting this fine minister and the group of people I spoke to, and I was not sure why.  And as I stumbled to the next city to meet with a group of pastors, I was still wondering why I was so upset since my purpose was to love people and help them.

During one session of the pastors’ conference the day after I left my friends’ marathon meeting, I asked each of the participants to write on a slip of paper their most pressing problem as a person in being a minister.   Going through the slips, I was surprised to find that one of their main problems was resentment toward the people in their churches.  Some felt that the members used them in thoughtless ways which they would not think of using a business associate.  Some thought their people had tried to extract every ounce of work they could out of their pastor for the smallest possible salary.  There were many other problems, but they added up to a feeling that they were not being treated as persons but were being used as religious equipment.

And then it hit me that although I was a layman in business most of the time, I was as much a professional religionist as these pastors, and I was getting a small taste of that which many ministers live with constantly.  People—many of whom love the minister dearly—thoughtlessly make extra demands and set up situations in which he or she either has to participate or appear to be selfish and un-Christian.  The pastor in this trap often goes along, wanting to be God’s servant.  But because ministers become exhausted and the expectations are unreasonable, he or she begins to feel depressed—beyond mere physical exhaustion.  And there may come a strange tightening in the stomach when additional meetings are called or added “duties” are dumped into his or her lap.  What I had seen in my own experience was that these symptoms resulted from a repressed resentment of the very people I had flown a thousand miles to love for God’s sake.  It was terrible but true.

I saw that my problem as a professional was that I was still too concerned with my own feelings of happiness and satisfaction.  I realized that I lacked a sort of divine disinterest in how I am treated.  But on the other hand, I saw that we laymen are often “people eaters” in our own churches in that we devour the personal life and creative love of our pastors and spokesmen by the way we use them and fail to think about them with the care we would a friend.  And the strange thing is that we never know what we are doing to them on the inside.  Some of them resent us for it, but because they have been trained that such resentment indicates self-centeredness in a Christian, they must repress it.  So, many ministers become discouraged, burned out, sick (physically or emotionally), or leave the ministry.  And they feel guilty and bitter.  (Of course many others are evidently emotionally wired for ceaseless activity and find their fulfillment in going constantly.)

But I now realize that my problem, as a layman, is that I have not been aware of the suffering of ministers—which means I have not loved them enough to be sensitive to their needs.

In my own case, as a traveling speaker, I had to make a new beginning by confessing to God my resentment and frustration.  I realized that a good bit of the problem that night was mine for not establishing concrete limits and boundaries ahead of time and staying roughly within them.  This I can try to do in the future in order to have an intelligent ministry when I travel.

When I got home from that trip, I examined our attitudes in our home church and was appalled at what I saw.  We seem to expect our ministers to run the church with fewer staff people than we would dream of allocating to an executive in a business venture of comparable size.  We say we love our ministers and are very grateful for them.  But somehow we often do not really look at their needs the way we do those of “normal people.”

It seems that I am so interested in my own hopes, dreams, and projects that I have used, unconsciously, other people to the limit—and yet I could not really recognize the extent of my own selfish tendency to use others…until it happened to me.

“Tell me how much you know of the sufferings of your fellow men and I will tell you how much you have loved them.[1]

Helmut Thielicke

Our Heavenly Father

“The longer I live, the more I feel that true repose consists in ‘renouncing’ one’s own self, by which I mean making up one’s mind to admit that there is no importance whatever in being ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’ in the usual meaning of the words.  Personal success or personal satisfaction are not worth another thought if one does achieve them, or worth worrying about if they evade one or are slow in coming.  All that is really worthwhile is action—faithful action, for the world, and in God.  Before one can see that and live by it, there is a sort of threshold to cross, or a reversal to be made in what appears to be men’s general habit of thought; but once that gesture has been made, what freedom is yours, freedom to work, and to love!  I have told you more than once that my life is now possessed by this ‘disinterest’ which I feel to be growing on me, while at the same time the deep-seated appetite that calls me to all that is real at the heart of the real, continues to grow stronger.”[2]

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Letters from a Traveller

Lord, forgive me.  I was so intent on being treated well myself that I failed to see how thoughtless I have been in using the speakers I invite to visit our town because I want to share them with my friends.  And I see in a hundred ways how I subtly use others to further my plans, and then send them on their way without realizing how they may feel.  Thank You that it is not too late to look around and try to be more sensitive to the people with whom I work and live.  Please give me the insight, the desire, and the strength to change.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

For the minister in me:

“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:3-11

For the layman in me:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…  Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches…  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Galatians 6:2, 6, 10

[1] Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1960), p. 160.

[2] Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Letters from a Traveller (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1962), p. 160.

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Resenting the People – a Minister’s Trap… with Room for All
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You were such a blessing to me 32 years ago. I often tell others of your impact on my life… I continue to thank the Lord Jesus for you and your ministry.
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