One year into a new ministry position, someone had a hard time accepting my leadership. They continued to go back to the previous leader with questions and for direction. To my humiliation, she snapped at me in front of other people. Soon, she stopped making eye contact with me altogether. She was even sharing her resentment with other people!
My initial reaction was to feel hurt. I had poured so much of myself into this ministry and gave my all! How did this person not see how much I cared about the ministry and about each person? Every time someone said her name or I saw her around church, it felt like a knife in my heart.
I set up a meeting and asked what I had done to cause offense, and I apologized. I would consider more carefully how I directed and led others. I let her know that I was so grateful for her willingness to serve and that she was a valuable part of the ministry. I thought the conversation went well and that things would improve.
Everything should have been okay after that, right? Wrong.
She then met with our pastor to further complain about me. Our pastor suggested a meeting with the three of us to work things out, but she refused. Her family talked about me to other people in the church, who then shared the gossip back with me. For unrelated reasons, she moved away, but people assumed she was no longer at church because of me. I wished they could know how much I was hurting from this, but I resolved to put it behind me.
No longer faced with the rejection and conflict each Sunday, I found the humility to work on myself. I reflected on my leadership and considered how to treat others with greater care. I gave more time to make eye contact and smile when addressing others. I made sure I was patient and gentle in explaining things to people, not rushed. I focused not only on the outcomes of ministries, but on the people serving in those ministries with me.
It took nearly a year before I felt forgiveness that went beyond a mere agreement with myself and God. Working through my own shortcomings gave me greater desire to forgive her. Jesus said, “Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
The forgiveness Christ offers is full and complete. He doesn’t say that He forgives us and then cringe at our name. He doesn’t say He forgives us and then hopes that everyone finds out our sin. If my forgiveness was to be like Christ’s forgiveness, it would need to find depth. It would need to find love. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Would you believe that years later, this woman asked if she could volunteer with me again at the same event? I can honestly say that I felt gratitude and joy at the thought of having her back for this event, and I said yes! With clear communication and respectful boundaries in place, there were no issues at all. I believe heaven rejoiced when we once again served together in the name of Jesus! It’s healthy for both of us that she has another church home, but I now look forward to seeing her annually for a ministry event we both love.
I’ve had to forgive many times in ministry, and several examples like this come to mind as I write this. When we lead as Jesus leads, we will be called to lead with forgiveness again and again.
If you find yourself in a similar position, it’s okay to feel hurt. Jesus was often rejected, and He wasn’t unaffected by it. He grieved for people whose sin caused pain in their lives and the lives of others! But hurt isn’t a place where we want to stay. With humility, you can be shaped into a new leader, one wiser and stronger from the experience. And finally, God can help you forgive. God may or may not still have plans for you to work with this person again, but through God, all things are possible!