Many clergy say that both their greatest joy and deepest pain are derived from serving: they rejoice in the service to God, while they also suffer, mostly due to the disharmony in fellow worker relationships. Throughout church history, there have always been internal and external troubles, but internal troubles often tend to be more troubling to pastors. The reason is if troubles come from the outside, pastors and fellow workers can bear them together, which is a beautiful testimony of the lives that belong to the Lord; but if there exists strifes and conflicts within the church, it is the clergy who suffer greatly.
PHOTO BY Deden Dicky Ramdhani
Handle the relationship with fellow workers and resolve conflicts
In the course of serving, fellow workers (including full-time staff members and volunteers) are the ones who co-work with pastors the most. Therefore, maintaining a good and healthy relationship between clergy and fellow workers seems rather important. It is common to see conflicts when people work together, whereas the attitude and methods adopted to handle such conflicts are the key. Also, not all results produced by the conflicts are negative. Robert Dow believed that conflicts had their value and positive side: the word “conflict” implies fighting together, which may lead to resolution, reconciliation and growth (“growth” implies new learning and action).
Conflicts can be both internal and external. Intrinsic conflict, which can be manifested as a gap between the vision of an individual or groups and present actions, has the potential for creative change, namely creative tension. Such a conflict can exert an uplifting force on individuals or groups.
Extrinsic conflict, on the other hand, is mainly interpersonal in nature. Conflict can be brought about by an unclear and inconsistent understanding of goals and rules of behavior, distrustful relationships, imbalanced power distribution and poor communication, and even personality differences among members of a team. This often results in a situation where the productivity of the entire team is hindered and depleted, coupled with a loss of strength, low morale, weakened cohesion, competitive splits and other negative consequences.
In some cases, different sources of forces can be consolidated in a perfect manner. With proper handling, divergent views are likely to create a turning point for the growth of team members. In the Tao Te Ching, it is said, “Return is the movement of the Tao. Yielding is the way of the Tao.” There is no one-size-fits-all solution for external conflicts. The only solution is to make a concrete analysis of concrete problems. In short, it requires a fairly mature personality and spiritual life, guided by the Holy Spirit and love, not by blood and uncontrolled emotions. These are the hardest to come by, however. It is worth mentioning that, in dealing with conflicts, prevention beforehand is better than remedy afterwards. Things like tensions and emotional confrontations between fellow workers don’t come about overnight. Pastors can prepare for a rainy day -- that is to say -- teaching them to take root in biblical truths, to band together and serve with one heart, to build friendly relationships that make it easy to reach consensuses even if opinions are split in ministry development. By doing so, serious conflicts and subsequent negative consequences can be avoided to the greatest possible extent.
Keep an intimate relationship with God and conquer temptations
Today the prevalence of materialism and consumerism is rampant, and the science of success is going viral. Luxury cars, power and status become what many people desire to obtain. There is no exception for churches. Church leaders may face temptations all the time. The growth in church membership, material abundance, success in ministries, and the admiration by others are the envies of everyone, which are rife with hidden temptations.
Pastors, who are God’s servants in this world, must stand firm. They must not take the growth in numbers as the only criterion for success, nor allow the worldly concept of judging pastors by their wealth and status to corrupt their sacred service before God. Among many complicating factors that affect pastoral service, the decisive one is the relationship with God. The reason is one who is called to serve, must be sent and accountable to the Lord. A close relationship with God ensures that the pastor can serve in a healthy way. A successful pastor is able to maintain an intimate relationship with God and to be faithful in doing what God has entrusted to her or him.
Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Most people in relationships tend to act as utilitarians and expect to benefit from the exchange relationship. However, unhealthy relationships give us a misplaced desire -- we think we can get satisfaction by filling our emptiness. Therefore, people often turn their desire for God into the desire for people and material things, hoping to get satisfied by the possession of more properties, earthly fame, and “successful” ministries or the affirmation and praise from people.
But whether we get it or not, our hearts remain restless. Because only when we gain God will we feel that satisfaction.
Our Lord Jesus told His disciples to pray, “not lead us into temptation”. He also taught them the secret of victory, namely the way to establish a right and healthy relationship: the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer instruct us about our relationship with God -- “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.” (cf. Mt 6:9-11) As for the relationships with others -- “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt 6:12) It is evident that a right and healthy relationship with God can bring blessings into interpersonal relationships and can protect the disciples from falling into temptation.
Establish the right pastoral relationship to please God
Whether pastors can handle their relationships with God and with other church members properly or not, is crucial to evaluating if pastoral services are healthy or not. Pastoral services are the spiritual shepherding for believers, but after all, it is to please God rather than every need of believers. Hence, pastors must not be “kidnapped” by what believers expect of t hem; instead, pastors must always maintain a healthy relationship with God and overcome the temptations of building a good reputation before people. Our Lord Jesus is a perfect model in this respect. According to the Apostle John, a lot of people believed in Jesus after He performed many miracles, but He “would not entrust Himself to them; for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person” (cf. John 2:24-25).
People who are over-concerned by what others think of them, entrust themselves to others and become subject to the likes and dislikes of others as slaves to fame. Pastors serve according to the God-given gifts and abilities, instead of being the hostage to the expectations of others or themselves. A pastor must learn to overcome the desire for a good reputation in order not to be in control of anything or anyone. Pastoral service is by faith. If the faith is built on the respect from people, the service of faith becomes the faith in oneself rather than the faith in God. Rev. Gordon Siu pointed out, those who refuse to be drawn by fame pay more attention to the Lord they serve, and would ultimately be praised and confirmed as “servants of Christ” by the Lord. As Paul confessed, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10)
If a harmonious and healthy relationship with God depends on obeying the Word of God and keeping abiding in Christ, then a healthy relationship among the members of the church is an extension of this. Through sharing the new life in Christ and partaking in the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, we establish a bond of life with each other in Christ and develop a healthy and loving relationship among church members in the Lord. Relationships between church members are an important part of pastoral social relationships, which should be built and cared for with sincerity. Pastors should live out the Word of God, since pastoral services are neither ostensible work nor a show. It is to build life connection among people. Pastors shall rest on no one but the promise and call of God.
Inwardly, we shall return to God’s everlasting love from time to time, confirm and receive the security given by God. As the apostle exhorted, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be ... and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Pet. 5:2, 4)
Pastors shall correct unreasonable interpersonal expectations, identify their God-given responsibilities and their accountability to God, continuously seek to understand God’s will in the service and shepherd His sheep according to His will. Pastors are convinced that their service to God is sent by Him, and that they are still saved and loved by God regardless of how they are treated by others. This can release them from the desire of being appreciated by people. That is because, ultimately, it is the pastor’s relationship with God, rather than anyone else, that determines whether the pastor’s serving is good or not. “Pastors should always bear in mind that no matter how complex this society has become, how demanding and laborious the church ministry is, how many weaknesses and limitations they have, and how great the difficulties they encounter, the key to pastoral effectiveness is to keep returning to the Lord -- to confirm His calling, to be faithful to His calling, and not to give up lightly; to confirm His love, His acceptance and His grace that is sufficient -- that He will guide and fulfill those whom He chose and called.”
For clergy, a healthy relationship does not come naturally. It must be built upon deliberate care and discipline. The apostle Paul took athletes in the arena as an example. They competed to win races, while staying disciplined in all things in normal time and training according to the rules; otherwise they would not be crowned. (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 2:5) In the same way, pastors must continue to experience growth in building and caring for social relationships and find security, receive wisdom, resolve conflicts, build healthy relationships, and bless one another in God who loves us without changing, to live out an abundant life bestowed by God.
Author: Wang Conglian
Translator: Bei Feng