For those facing the lions...

On Sunday morning during the first service as my wife and I were standing and singing with our brothers and sisters, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad we're here." I could not have agreed more.

We have lived for six months in Harrisonburg, Virginia where I serve as Lead Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. It has been like breathing in fresh air. They are a kind and blessedly unpretentious congregation. It takes quite a bit of time to learn of the many wonderful things about the history of Cov Pres because the church is reluctant to boast about their achievements. The congregation and session of Cov Pres honor those men who labor in preaching and teaching. Many pastors labor in churches where this is not the case.

The ministry staff at Cov Pres is united and share a strong bond of trust. The session consists of men who love Christ and his church. It is a wonderful feeling to leave staff and session meetings refreshed and encouraged. Each Lord's Day I have the immense privilege of standing to preach before men and women who love to receive God's Word. They bless me in ways that they probably are not even aware.

But not every church is like the church I am blessed to serve. I know this firsthand. Ray Ortland has written a tender piece of encouragement to pastors that acknowledges the brutal reality alive and well in some churches. He writes to a friend who has ended up being a meal for lions.
Unless there had been a spiritual breakthrough and deep repentance, conflict was inevitable.  But the conflict did not discredit you; it validated you.  It just wasn’t the validation you wanted!  All you wanted was their blessing, for the greater glory of Jesus.  But the rejection you suffered there is the reason 1 John 3:12 is in the Bible — to tell you that you’re not crazy: “And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”  There it is.  That was your crime, pastor.  You were a godly man, wholehearted for the Lord.  Your ministry was righteous.  In your church, that was a fatal step.

So you lost your ministry there.  But you didn’t lose your ministry altogether.  What feels like loss is, in fact, re-investment.  You were a profound man before, and now you are even more profound.  For the rest of your life, when someone comes to you who has just taken a torpedo amidships and they’re going down, you will understand, as few men can.  You are now equipped as never before to comfort sufferers.  In your weakness and desolation, you are formidable.  What can anyone do to you now?  You’ve gone deep into the heart of Jesus, and you’ve found him to be an utterly faithful Friend.  For the rest of your life, that glorious awareness of your Friend above is going to be pouring out of you onto devastated people.  And your ministry will have more impact than ever before.
If you are a pastor serving in a hard place, don't lose hope my brother. Many of us have walked that road. We know the loneliness of it all. We know the dismay and emotional desolation of realizing that people we have tried to serve have undermined us. Some of us have even ended up in an emergency room.

It may be the Lord's will for you to travel that path a bit longer. Remember that we are hard pressed in this life. But we are not crushed. We are persecuted. But we are not destroyed. We do carry around death in our life. Brother pastor, in that brutal place full of lions God is doing some very deep mining in your heart. Do not despise your time in the den. He has not forgotten you.