Written By Crystal Brockington, USA
I couldn’t believe that they actually mailed me a letter.
When I had completed the Small Group Leadership Training several weeks earlier, our Campus Pastor had informed the class that at the end of the training, some of us would, unfortunately, be receiving a letter stating that we were not currently fit to be small group leaders. I brushed off the possibility.
After all, I was already on the worship team and part of the young adult leadership team. I had done exceedingly well on the biblical knowledge exam that all potential leaders had to take. I also had one of the church pastors as a character reference. Several of the people involved in the decision-making process had even prematurely congratulated me on my new small group!
So, imagine my surprise when I read the letter thanking me for my time and interest, wishing me the best, and noting that I did not meet their criteria.
I was devastated to hear that I wasn’t leadership material—so devastated that this rejection was a major contributing factor in my decision to leave that congregation several months later.
I had been rejected before. We all have. Rejection is a part of life, but it was hard to move past the offense I felt.
Here are four things that helped me to grow through the pain of rejection, instead of simply feeling bad about it.
1. Grieve the loss
Being considered for a promotion, whether at our job or in the church, can be exciting. The evaluation process often stirs up thoughts and conversations of what we wish to accomplish. This can cause us to become emotionally invested in the possibilities.
In my case, I had prayed quite intensely for the local college students that I had hoped would be discipled through my small group. When I wasn’t permitted to lead the group, I needed to grieve the loss of the possibility.
While it is true that missing out on an opportunity, going through a break-up, or even making life transitions may feel different from grieving the loss of a loved one, these are still moments in our lives that warrant grief.
Our feelings of sadness or disappointment are valid. We can acknowledge them as we release them to the Lord.
2. Let go of offense
It hurt that my church hadn’t chosen me, and I was offended that they mailed me a letter to inform me. I perceived the mailing of the letter to be a disregard for my value—surely there was a more considerate way to handle the situation?
Since I felt devalued, it started to color how I processed my relationships with leaders in my church. One relationship in particular, was highly affected. In hindsight, this person hadn’t actually done anything to wrong me, but through the lens of offense, I had allowed him to become an enemy within my heart. Offense had blinded me to this leader’s good intentions, commitment to my growth in the Lord, and genuine biblical love for me.
Several months after leaving my church, I was able to reconcile with this leader, but it was only possible because I released the offense. I had to forgive him and the church at large, for the ways that their actions had wounded me, even though they hadn’t apologized, and even though they never intended to hurt me in the first place.
Christ commands us in Scripture to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). When we walk around with offense, we are holding something against our neighbor, and this is contrary to love. Offense keeps a record and creates a debt. But love, according to Scripture, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, and keeps no record of wrong-doings (1 Corinthians 13:5).
In Christ, our offenses against the Father are covered, and the debt they create is canceled. Therefore, we should follow His instruction and gracious example when dealing with those who have created the debt of offense within our hearts (Matthew 18:32-33).
3. Surrender to the process
Sometimes we don’t receive a position or promotion because we simply aren’t the best candidate or right for the position. Other times there is no logical explanation. In my case, I was not ready to lead. While I was “qualified” on paper and had met the written requirements, Scripture told a different story.
God takes leadership seriously, and so did my church. This congregation held small group leaders to the same standard as other church officers. Leaders, by nature, set an example of living biblical Christianity and also come alongside members of the congregation to do the same. For example, among other things, Scripture dictates that deacons are to be respectable, sincere, honest in their pursuits, and deeply rooted in their faith (1 Timothy 3:8-12).
If I am honest, in that season of my life, I didn’t measure up to God’s standard of leadership. I was frequently late, I was easily offended, and I lacked peace and joy. This didn’t negate the things that I did well, and it didn’t mean that I should have been disqualified from other areas of leadership and service that I was already active in. However, it did indicate that there was still space for me to grow.
If we are able to let go of the offense of being shown our shortcomings, we can partner with the Lord and the people around us to intentionally grow in these areas until we are the leaders that Christ has called us to be.
4. Remember that it is God who exalts
No matter how qualified, gifted, or charismatic we are, God is ultimately the one who exalts us to positions of leadership. He is much more concerned with our character and development than He is with our resume or reputation.
Even in seasons of denial or rejection, we should honor God by stewarding well the influence that He has already entrusted to us. Consider Joseph (Genesis 39-45) and King David (1 Samuel 24:1-7), who both navigated a process as they experienced incremental promotion. Scripture is full of emerging leaders who are going through a process, working through offense, and growing in humility as they walked in God’s plan for them. We are in good company, as we do the same.