Written by Riley Sands, Singapore
I started working in a local church two years ago. Working in church wasn’t new to me, as I had worked in my home church before, which was of a different denomination. From that short stint, I understood that the church upholds the spirit of excellence, and whatever we do, we do it for the Lord. And yet, the church was also composed of people with different personalities and working styles—differences, in short.
I realised working in church was no different from working in a secular workplace—that even though it was God’s people working together, it didn’t mean there was automatically love, respect, and kindness in the work environment.
Nevertheless, when a friend approached me to work as a contract staff for this new church, I decided to give it a try, thinking that I had matured enough over time and working in church may have changed. My job involved working closely with the senior pastor, and one of my key tasks was compiling the church report for a local conference.
About one month into the job, I started to experience anxiety attacks at work due to a slew of mistakes I’d been making. Even though I did my best, mistakes became common, and I was wracked with shame at not being able to do better. It didn’t help that the senior pastor was blunt in the way he spoke, which gradually made me feel resentful.
Things escalated when the pastor pointed out a glaring mistake on a report that could potentially embarrass the church leaders. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach; I couldn’t say anything, despite having checked the report multiple times with my administrative manager, who had approved it before I submitted it to the district superintendent.
Although the senior pastor and my administrative manager took the blame, I couldn’t forgive myself for my enormous mistake.
Later that evening, I broke down before the Lord. I couldn’t understand why He had opened this window of opportunity for me, only to have me be so defeated. The more I poured out my frustrations, the angrier I got. In the heat of the moment, I decided to resign at the two-month mark.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Instead, God showed up in ways I didn’t expect, and through my encounter, He revealed three things that were deep within my heart:
1. Every part matters
After submitting my resignation letter to my manager that night, I immediately felt relieved. However, half an hour before work ended the next day, I was nudged by a small voice asking me the number of staff working in the office. So, I proceeded to count and humbly replied, “Five administrative and one operational staff.”
In return, God impressed upon me this thought: “This church is not made up of one pastor. It is made up of many workers. Each of them has a gift and a role to play. If one person in the team suffers, everyone suffers together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
What makes the church unique is that no one is insignificant in God’s eyes, and He has placed everyone in it for a specific purpose (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).
It occurred to me that I had been so fixated with my working relationship with the senior pastor that I forgot there were other staff working there too. It was not just about me making mistakes alone and getting all the blame. The rest of the Body (the church office) shares the burden too.
2. Don’t be judgemental
Although working with a senior pastor was an honour, it wasn’t as rosy as what people might imagine it to be.
For starters, his packed schedule didn’t allow me to clarify things with him on certain days. Our different working styles also made it challenging for me to communicate with him. I eventually started to harbour judgemental thoughts about him, such as his speech and his lack of pastoral heart towards his staff.
But I sensed God saying to me, “I have set him apart to do my work. If I, the Lord, have not judged him, who are you to judge him?”
In Matthew 7: 1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way, you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measures you use, it will be measured to you.”
I realised that I was guilty, too, in my speech, the way my conversations with colleagues would sometimes be peppered with complaints and grumbling. If I were to examine my heart, I didn’t think that my heart was pure too.
While it’s true that pastors should be faithful to uphold God’s Word in their work and life and are accountable for the way they shepherd their sheep, I’m reminded that they are also human and have struggles that they’re not always able to express.
Instead of being quick to judge, I learnt to pray for the senior pastor and asked God to show me how to work with him. Through God’s guidance, I understood what the pastor required for his work and over time, our working relationship improved.
3. Love one another
I’ve spent most of my Christian life worshipping in a non-denominational church and have not spent much time acquainting myself with churches of different denominations and cultures.
As much as I tried my best to learn the traditional church structure and its protocols, I was baffled by how things were run. Slowly, that frustration affected my interaction with my colleagues. I would grumble and complain about how traditional churches were run, insinuating that the independent church structure I knew was better.
Once, when I was at my wit’s end, I consulted a friend who worshipped in a traditional church, and she offered a piece of valuable advice: “Just because they are traditional worshippers doesn’t mean they are any less spiritual.”
Structures and worship styles might differ, but we all share the same word of God. As God’s children, we are all part of one body, united with Christ as the head, and called to love each other as one (Ephesians 4:15).
Despite my complaints, I’m thankful that my colleagues were very gracious and patient in guiding me to understand traditional church worship. Over time, I learnt to embrace traditional worship as well, and began to recognise the beauty of different worship styles. Picturing this makes me anticipate the amazing sight when churches from different denominations all come together one day to worship Him in heaven.
After my encounter with God that afternoon, I rescinded my resignation letter the following morning and stayed on with the church to complete the four-month contract. Of course, it was not all sunshine and roses after that, and some of the struggles remained, but the Lord provided strength and favour.
He showed me some steps I could take to communicate with the pastor—for instance, presenting requests in a sequential manner during an appropriate break, instead of just rattling off all my requests from my to-do-list. I also made an effort to read what I’d written more carefully and look out for the mistakes I was prone to making.
By God’s grace, the pastor recognised my efforts in trying to build a good working relationship with him, and eventually asked if I would consider working in church as a full-time staff.
Although I didn’t take up the offer, I was thankful that things had turned out for the better, that I finally understood how to appreciate the beauty of each church and see how each of us plays a part in advancing the kingdom of God. Throughout the process, I got to experience more of God’s love and grace though His Word and His promptings, as well as through the colleagues who showed grace to me.
If you struggle with loving God’s people, why don’t you lay it all at God’s feet and ask Him to reveal what’s in your heart? I believe He will show you just as how He did for me.