A few weeks ago, our pastor preached about hanging on to negative emotions caused by hurts suffered. He suggested a simple first step: pray for your enemy.
This is not revolutionary, as Jesus himself urged us to “…love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:44. This is classified as one of the “hardest” sayings of Jesus. It is not a suggestion, but a command. It is not just a higher standard for leaders, but it applies to all of us.
Pastor decribed his own reactions as he took this practice to heart and started daily praying for people who had hurt him.
1) The initial response: I can’t do this – it is hard to pray blessings upon those we resent, or hold grudges against.
2) It gets easier – after a couple of days of this daily practice, you find it becomes more comfortable and less forced. I have a mental picture of praying for someone through gritted teeth.
3) You realize that your “list” was way longer than you thought. – The act of praying for our enemies, helps us to release the hold that our enemies have over us, and our eyes start to open to how much we are really holding on to.
I have recommitted to this practice personally, and am recognizing that all three things that pastor said were true in my own life.
Now to my point:
I believe that we need to apply this at times as a ministry/church. This is especially true during/after difficult situations:
- a church split
- when a pastor or leader fails accountability
- when individuals are highly, publicly critical of your leadership or vision
- when individuals act in a manner that is divisive inside the body
- when people leave the body in disappointment or anger
- when another local church starts to grow at a rate that hurts our growth
- when our folks start to leave to attend such a church
When these events happen, I have experienced church leadership (staff, boards) express hurt and anger at the individuals they hold responsible. In order to lead our congregation forward, we need to purge our venom. We need to forgive and release. We need to continually examine our hearts to ensure that we are not holding on to feelings that become a “root of bitterness”. Our organization will not be able to move forward until we personally can stop hanging on to past injuries and hurts.
So what can we do:
1) lead our leadership in this practice. Pray for individuals who are divisive, are critical, have left – pray for God’s blessing in spiritual, health, financial, and family realms. Pray for churches or organizations that people have left or are leaving your congregation to attend – pray for God to bless their congregation, and their ministry.
2) pray for leaders who have failed accountability (especially those who have lost credibility with the congregation) – pray for God’s blessing on this persons life, ministry, health, family. Pray that they will not be alone through this challenge, that they will have necessary support from friends and colleagues.
3) Lead the congregation in both of the above practices – use this as an opportunity to ensure that your messaging to the congregation at large is in line with biblical teaching. Ensure that your disappointment and hurt over these situations and events does not leak into your communication to the organization at large.
Is this a hard thing to do? Yes. Is it the right thing? Yes. Is this a “gut check”? Absolutely! Ugh!
What should a leader do if he or she cannot bring themself to do this. If they are so hurt, disappointed, confused, or frustrated with individuals or criticism or situations that they cannot pray for their enemy? I am afraid that the best thing that they can do is to recuse themselves from leadership until they can work through it. The opportunity for “spiritual abuse” is great in this circumstance. Accountability is key here, and so leadership accountability needs to have this on the radar.