If you stay in ministry long enough, you will get hurt. In our small groups and church serving teams we can easily become close friends with those we lead. When hurt and disappointment inevitably comes, it's tempting to throw in the towel and quit, or at least to withdraw from the ones we are called to shepherd. Toxic cynicism can easily seep into our souls.
After one heart-crushing experience I was faced with a dilemma: As their leader, how was I to deal emotionally with hurtful people?
I searched through and earnestly prayed for guidance. John 13 caught my attention.
Although Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, he still included him in the Last Supper. Jesus chose to love him as he did the other disciples. John 13:1 says that Jesus was intent on showing the disciples "the full extent of his love." Verse 2 gives us a clue as to how Jesus was able to shift his mind and heart to be able to do such a thing. It states that Jesus knew who he was, where he had come from and where he was going. As he focused on fully completing his Father's will, Jesus did something outlandish and unforgettable. He knelt down with a water basin and a towel, assumed the role of a house servant, and washed and dried the dusty feet of his disciples.
I wonder what Jesus said to each of the disciples as he looked up into their faces. Some of his words are recorded in Scripture; others are not. Regardless of the words he chose for each of his intimate friends, an atmosphere of love, kindness, and respect lingered during that Passover meal. Though Jesus knew that in a few short hours each of those men would betray him, he still chose to move toward them to meet their needs. Each disciple was related to, not according to their future failures, but according to Calvary's incredible grace and forgiveness.
Later Jesus commanded his disciples to love others in the same manner he had shown love to them. "As I have loved you, so you MUST love one another" (emphasis mine).
So the question really is, How do we begin to love hurtful people with godly love? Here are some suggestions:
1. Pray for those who hurt us. Ask the Lord to help us see people with his eyes and love them with his heart. Let Christ's love fill and flow through us (Romans 5:5b) as we cooperate with God in loving them. Commit to obediently love them as Christ has loved us.
2. Expect others to let us down. Choose to minister to them anyway. Commit to love them as Christ has loved us.
3. As a servant leader, move toward offenders to give them what they need. Despite feeling hurt and disappointed, Jesus didn't withdraw from his disciples. He looked past their failings and approached them with kindness and respect.
It takes courage, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit to truly embrace the love of God for ourselves and others. Because God paid such a high price for our forgiveness, we cannot remain spiritually vibrant and yet refuse to forgive. Bitterness is not the answer.
The Cross gives us both an example and the power to forgive the hurts leadership inevitably brings.