by Mary Somerville
Perhaps you and your husband have gone through outright rejection or have been rejected by a certain segment of your flock. Maybe your church has asked you to leave or the church you were planting has failed. If so, you've experienced unspeakable pain.
One of our good friends in the ministry was asked to leave a church less than a year after he had just moved his family across the country to serve there. The preceding pastor had left that same church after a short ministry because of the critical spirit of the congregation. Bob mentors pastors and has heard too many similar stories. We have known of some churches that have hurt several pastors in a row, so much so that they left the ministry. It is sad that churches can be so unloving and even cruel to their servants.
But here is a question to ponder: Just what will it take to get us to give up ministry? Rejection? Criticism? Lack of appreciation? People questioning the value of our ministry? Discouragement? At what point do we give up and say, "This is too hard; I quit!"?
Here are some biblical principles to help us know how to handle rejection victoriously and have the blessing of God on our life.
Let me draw us to the truth that will set us free from bitterness, resentment, anger, and discouragement. Jesus said of Himself, "The stone which the builders rejected this became the chief corner stone, this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Matt. 21:42). In fulfillment of Scripture "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). He bore our sins as the rejected Son of God. Doesn't that put our rejection in perspective? The servant is not greater than his Lord. Should we expect better treatment than the perfect One?
Women, we must stand by our man-encourage him to begin again. We must plead with God for perseverance-staying power. His strength is perfected in our weakness.
Perseverance is so important in any work for God. I'm learning from my husband who is so persevering. He just keeps reaching out in love and asking God, "What do you want me to learn through this?" We can learn to thank God for the trial by faith, asking Him for wisdom and seeing what we can learn from it to be more conformed to the image of His Son. "The testing of our faith produces patience (or perseverance)" (James 1:2-8).
When times are tough we need not plead with our husband to leave the ministry. He has a calling from God. It would be wrong for me to have my husband leave the ministry to please me. God will give me the strength to stay the course. The grass isn't greener in another church or mission field. All ministry is hard.
It is very sad when a man who is called by God to ministry leaves because of his wife's insistence. I know of men who would fervently desire to be in ministry but their wives could not stand up under the hurts of ministry. They are missing the greater blessing of persevering together. If she becomes ill and he cannot perform his duties, or if he must step back because of rebellious children, God will honor that. Our observation and experience has been that churches benefit from the longevity of their pastors. They experience the faithful care of a shepherd who knows them over years and cares enough to persevere through trials.
When it was rough, Paul could not abandon his calling. He told the believers to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). May this encourage us-it's not in vain!
Paul saw himself as a clay pot-expendable and lowly but containing the wonderful treasure of the gospel that "the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7). Through the power of God, dear sisters, we do not need to lose heart. We can, with hope and confidence, live for the eternal and lasting, not the temporary and fleeting. "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart" (2 Cor. 4:1).
In times of seeming failure and hurt you need not be "Lone Rangers" toughing it out. Sometimes ministers and their wives need ministering to. Ask a couple whom you respect to come alongside you to give you wise counsel and comfort from the Scriptures and the support you need.
We were never meant to go through these trials alone. Perhaps you need help in turning it over to the Lord and seeking His comfort and strength to go on. In humility, we need to accept help when we need it. In fact, God's model is to use others in the Body of Christ to spur us on to keep on keeping on for Christ.
Right in the midst of the trial we went through when several families left our church at once, Bob had committed to be the field-conference speaker for our denomination's missionaries in Africa. He thought, "I can't even keep my own church together; how can I minister to them?" However, through his brokenness and the lessons that God was teaching him, God used him greatly. The missionaries were in hard places, too. They were encouraged as we cried together over our ministries. They appreciated someone who understood what they were going through. The wives and I received mutual encouragement from one another.
The next year Bob and I were asked to minister to our missionaries in Japan. Some were ready to quit. They were experiencing tough times. They, too, were encouraged and strengthened through the comfort we were receiving from the Lord that was being passed on to them. We clearly experienced the truth of this verse: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1: 3-4).
If you aren't suffering, you probably know other pastors and wives who are going through the fire and who need to be encouraged and comforted. Why not get together with them, call them, or send them an e-mail with some loving words, soon!
We can take courage from the life of Jonathan Edwards. As a key figure in America's Great Awakening in the eighteenth century, he and his wife modeled great perseverance. He pastored a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, for 23 years-the largest church outside of Boston, where the revival began, while his wife Sarah was the mother of their 11 children. Samuel Hopkins, a writer of the day wrote: "It was a happy circumstance that he (Jonathan) could trust everything to the care of Mrs. Edwards with entire safety and with undoubting confidence. She was a most judicious and faithful mistress of a family, habitually industrious, a sound economist, managing her household affairs with diligence and discretion. While she uniformly paid a becoming deference to her husband and treated him with entire respect, she spared no pains in conforming to his inclination and rendering everything in the family agreeable and pleasant."1
Jonathan did a great deal of traveling and speaking during the revival and Sarah was left at home with the children. Then a problem started brewing in their church. In the eyes of their flock they seemed to be too extravagant with their money and Sarah was asked to turn over the itemized family budget so everyone could see how they were managing and spending their money. The other problem was that Pastor Edwards had decided not to accept into church membership the non-committed. "In 1750, there were problems aplenty. Sarah had just given birth to her eleventh child and two months later, physically and emotionally depleted, she was flattened by rheumatic fever. That spring, townspeople shunned the Edwards family, refusing to talk with them on the street. Church attendance was only a fraction of what it used to be. A petition was circulated and 200 church members signed it asking for Edwards's dismissal as minister. By mid-year Jonathan was unemployed." Paul Elmer said in Cambridge History of American Literature, "The citizens of Northampton had ousted the greatest theologian and philosopher yet produced in this country.'"2
Jonathan then received a call to pastor a church composed of a few white families and 42 Indians on the western frontier of Massachusetts. "In primitive Stockbridge, Jonathan preached in a small stuffy room through an interpreter to a small congregation, mostly of Indians who had covered themselves in bear grease as a protection against the winter cold." 3
Sarah continued to support her husband while probably wondering why the Lord had led a scholar like her husband to such a place or why she, who was accustomed to finer things, had to live in a log cabin surrounded by wigwams.
If Sarah could persevere under those circumstances, I think that I can!
God used this situation for good in the Edwards's lives and He can use your particular trial for good in your life. Jonathan had more time to write in this smaller church and his writings are treasured to this day. When the French and Indian War started heating up, his ministry there had to come to a close and he was given the call to be the president of Princeton University, which he accepted reluctantly. After just a few weeks he became ill with smallpox, before Sarah moved to New Jersey to be with him. On his deathbed he said:
"Give my kindest love to my dear wife and tell her that the uncommon union that has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever. And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you to seek a Father who will never fail you."4
Their marriage, which was characterized by harmony, love, and esteem, survived all the pressures of ministry and received God's blessing on their posterity. A study of 1400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards indicated that it produced many people in serving positions: "12 college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office, including three senators, three governors, and a vice president of the United States."5
We may not always see the fruit of our suffering but by faith we know that God is working for good in our lives (Rom. 8:28-29).
David encouraged his son Solomon, "Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished" (1 Chron. 28:20). David's God is your God and He will not fail nor forsake you, until all the work He has for you to do is finished!
1. William J. Petersen, Martin Luther Had a Wife, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers), 81.
2. Ibid., 94
3. Ibid., 95
4. Ibid., 99
5. Ibid., 75
Excerpted from Mary's book, One with a Shepherd: the Tears and Triumphs of a Ministry Marriage, available at www.KressChristianPublications.com or call 1-8MOREBOOKS
Mary Somerville, a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has more than 35 years of experience as a pastor's wife. She has been her husband Bob's chief encourager as he has pastored two Evangelical Free Churches-one in New Jersey and one in California where they now reside.