Written By Abigail Lai, Singapore
Serving people can be hard work, whether in or out of the church.
In church, I am thankful for the support I get from family and friends as I serve, but there are still many moments when I feel discouraged and insufficient to continue what I set out to do—and it’s usually because of people. In those moments, I try to comfort myself by saying: “If it is not hard, then it is not ministry.”
But I also believe that God wants to teach me through my struggles.
1. People are uninterested
Are you leading a cell group, trying to organize an event or planning an outreach, and find your group members or co-leaders showing disinterest? Sometimes, I feel most unappreciated and resentful towards people for not putting in as much effort and not supporting me as much as I think they should.
But God has reminded me to take a step back, in order not to completely miss the point of ministry—that it is about people, not about my programs and my plans. Ministry is about helping people grow in their faith and love of Christ, and about caring for their needs.
So I am learning to care for people instead of programs, by being interested in their lives and the problems they are facing. I am also learning to be open to feedback, and to organize events or cell meetings that can meet their needs.
2. People are discouraging
Sometimes, we get disheartening response to our service, or feedback from leaders that seems harsh or unfair. At other times, our peers may just seem critical or plain unhelpful. When that happens, I can feel the seed of discontentment growing into bitterness and making me harbor grudges against them.
But God has taught me to show grace—to my leaders, peers, and juniors. And I have found that those whom I had been disappointed in, turned out to have a story behind them that explained their actions. Once, I felt extremely ashamed of myself when a co-worker—who I thought was just being sluggish—told us that his non-believing parents had been deterring him from being active in church. I realized that I had been unfair and too quick to judge his attitude, and that my own attitude towards him might have even discouraged him further.
Unless I have tried to step into the shoes of another, I will not know how much they are struggling, fighting, and striving to love God. So I am learning to show grace to others, just as Christ has shown grace to me.
3. People are different
Are you facing differences in doctrinal beliefs, convictions, or ministry focus among fellow believers? Do you find these differences causing rifts and misunderstandings that slow down progress in your ministry and affect your “efficiency”?
Perhaps this is the wrong way to think. I’ve learned to see that differences in opinion can in fact broaden and enrich my perspective—if only I lay aside my pride. I tend to get impatient with people who seem to be overly excited about things like spiritual gifts, but a friend hit the nail on the head one day when she told me, “You’re never going to understand if you’re always going to judge them first!”
Her words hit me hard: they reminded me about the judgmental attitude I had been holding against people whose ideas did not seem to align with mine. I am thankful for friends and co-workers who constantly step in to help me see things in a different light.
4. People judge us by our service
Am I serving too much or too little? Am I overbearing or being a pushover? All these thoughts run through my mind every time I try to do something. I know that keeping my focus on Christ is more important, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about these things and looking at my shortcomings.
I used to judge the effectiveness of my ministry by the number of people who turned up for fellowship, events, or anything that I planned, and felt discouraged whenever the response was low or people were tardy. But I have learned to remind myself that other people’s judgment of my event is not a judgment of my character or person, and that a poor response is not the result of my lack of faith or effectiveness. After God brought about this change in me, I was able to rejoice in serving even when attendance was dismal. Serving became a lot easier and happier when I stopped worrying about what people thought of me.
It is normal to feel disheartened by ministry; no one is immune to it. But these places of discouragement may be where God is pushing us to rely on Him more. God does not need us to help Him do His work, but it pleases Him when we rely on Him when we minister to others. God is far more interested in who we are, than what we do for Him.