Five Most Challenging People You Will Minister To

The longer I’ve been a pastor, the more I find that not everything nor everyone is as it seems. Call it naivety or inexperience, but my view of people in earlier times tended to be far more black-and-white. Now I find that layers of complexity tend to lie beneath almost every person that I meet and minister to.

However, if I had to put into categories, these five kinds of people below are the ones I find most challenging to minister to. They can be vastly different to one another, and yet simultaneously, a person can fall into more than one category. What’s common to each of them is the fact that all of them are more than they appear to be. In each case, there’s the person you meet and perhaps even come to know, but there’s something more that lies beneath the surface. And in each one of these cases, what lies beneath the surface tends not to want to be addressed or ministered to or challenged.

Ok, it’s getting a bit too conceptual so here are the five types of people I’m thinking of:

1. Religious but unregenerate

There are loads of these in every church: those who appear to be Christian, have been baptised/confirmed, receive the sacraments, confess the right creeds, are church members, active in church, and yet beneath it all, they’re simply not born again. The difficulty with this group is that they will deny that they are unregenerate. In fact, when put under pressure, they will gladly give the right answers and cite their Christian resumes to demonstrate that they are ‘really Christian’ but show little or no evidence in changed hearts, behaviour or lifestyle.

2. Converted but undiscipled

By this I don’t mean the newly converted who need to be followed-up on but those who have been Christians for years, perhaps decades, but  have never really ‘grown up’ in the faith. And almost always, they’re still immature because they weren’t properly discipled when they were first converted or first understood the gospel. These Christians may have drifted from church to church, with prolonged periods of absences between churches. They will be semi-regular in their attendance and you will see some latent desire to be godly, but because they’ve never known anything but spiritual immaturity, in all sorts of ways, the Word of God will more often than not be choked out by the worries in their lives. Their thinking, feeling and doing have never been properly shaped by Christian discipleship, the church community and healthy modelling. And it’s more difficult because these spiritual babies are really hard to motivate and encourage years down the track to form discipleship relationships, because by now, they are busy parents with young or school aged kids, and spiritual immaturity and laxity in church involvement have become hard habits to break.

3. Hurting but hiding

These Christians know the church too well to be honest with their pain. Theirs is the ‘stained glass masquerade’, often because they’ve tried to be vulnerable and have been shot down with judgement or moralism in the past. They’ve become resigned to the fact that no one will understand, no one will still accept them if their secrets were shared, and in fact, they’re the only ones struggling the way they are. It’s very difficult to identify who they are, let alone gain their trust in order to minister to them, because they’ve become so adept at hiding.

4. Keen but conniving

These are seemingly mature and zealous Christians, probably in leadership, whom you only find out later have been at it with their own agenda in mind. Because they’re keen and want to serve (and often have leadership gifts), they are sought after and placed in positions of responsibility. Only later do the pastor or elders find that that they are anything but servant-like. They’re proud, unteachable, don’t submit to loving authority, have their own agenda, gather their own followers, are great at talking behind people’s backs, and basically undermine the unity of the church when the decisions made or directions taken don’t suit them. What’s difficult about this group of people is that you often don’t know until it’s too late.

5. Busy but barren

Finally there are those who are busy serving in many ways, sometimes in leadership, but have been in a spiritual desert for years. They are the reliable and dependable people you keep turning to, and you turn to them because they rarely say ‘no’. But all the while, they’ve been serving out of duty without any delight, and their spiritual journey is like a car without fuel rolling down the hill towards a brick wall. A spiritual car-wreck is on its way but no one – not they, nor those who ask them to serve – is willing to pay the price of pulling them out of ministry and ask the hard questions. Usually these people will give out subtle ‘cries for help’ or send signals that things aren’t well, but their busyness and yours keeps them going ‘for just a little bit longer’ until the ministry they are serving in is in a better place and they can take a break. By then, it’s too late.

So there they are, and here we are. If you’re reading this and you fall into one (or more) of these categories, please know that nothing would please your pastor more than for you to allow him to minister to you, beneath the surface. This hasn’t been written out of frustration or to shame you. It’s just one pastor sharing to others about his desire to minister better to people like you, but being honest about what prevents it from being done as well as he would like.

But if you’re reading this and you’re a pastor or a church leader, I guess like me, you know how it feels to want to love and serve these people but feel helpless along the way. My encouragement would be to (and I need some of this encouragement too): pray more for them, persevere in ministering the gospel to them in the context of relationship, recruit and train others to look out for people like them and help you in your ministry towards them, and trust that the gospel can reach down deep enough to transform them.

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About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on May 3, 2012, in Christian Living, Church, Ministry. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. And what do you do if it is the pastor who is in one of these categories? How are they ministered to?

    • Wow, good point. I would hope that every pastor is ministered to in some way, but I know the reality is that few are.

      I think the church is the body of Christ. I would find a very humble and gentle way of pointing this out to the pastor, knowing that he is likely to get a little defensive and perhaps dismissive. Finding a way to let them know could mean making sure that you really understand him and his situation well; also that you have a good history of saying helpful and encouraging things to him, lest he think that you only have critical things to say. Or alternatively, if it is a church with plural elders / pastors, let one of the other elder/pastors know your concern, not to gossip, but in order that it might be raised by people more suited to raise it with the pastor you mentioned.

      • Yes, that’s good advice. The thing is that a lot of pastors/people in leadership are in such important yet vulnerable positions. Often that means that some, if not many, become very isolated and it becomes difficult to know them well, or minister to them. Would a ‘Pastor’s anonymous’ sort of group, where they can share honestly and openly their ups and downs without fear of judgment or gossip, work?

  2. Hi Pete, how would you approach those who are converted but undiscipled? I’ve met many of them in my youth ministry, and they just come and go. It really hard to follow-up with them because of their irregular attendance and busy schedules.

    It seems that they have a slight inclination for a deeper spiritual experience at times, but are quickly distracted by the things of the world.

    • HI Joel. Good question. There’s nothing quite as difficult as the person who, due to maturity, commitment level, or busyness, is difficult to ‘chase up’ in order to disciple. Apart from the obvious: i.e. pray for them that God will give them a hunger for maturity and growth, the other thing I would advise is simply to persevere and be creative. Sometimes people are willing (esp. youth) but you might have to find other ways of discipling them that fall creatively outside of their busy schedules. It might involve school holidays but not term times. It might involve before youth group on Friday nights for an hour, or afters school every so often at the library or something like that. Try with converted youth to aim to take them all through a set of ‘follow-up’ Bible studies such as Matthias Media’s ‘Just For Starters’ (www.matthiasmedia.com.au). It’s not easy, but it can be done with a lot of prayer and persistence (and creativity). Cheers!

  3. Hi Pete
    I’m a second generation Christian, just turned 20 this year.God has blessed me with a gift for the keyboard and I’ve been serving in the Worship team since I was 15.
    But all this while, I’ve been drifting in and out of Him. There are moments where I’m so fired up for the Lord; and there are times where I just feel like the sinner I am. Almost every Sunday I feel ministered to, blessed to be a child of God. But then the week days come and I feel like I’m just a “Sunday Christian”. I don’t want to live my life like this! Quiet time is also a problem for me…I don’t hunger after God’s word, yet I know God’s word is to be our bread of life and how He reveals Himself to us. I think I fall into categories 1,2 and 5. I don’t feel like I can confide in my parents, and I’m afraid to confide in my pastor, because even though we’re all God’s children and we all sin…it’s like baring my soul and stripping away all the trappings.
    How do I get closer to God again?

    • Hi “Lost”. Thank you for your honesty. I have been in your shoes before and know what it’s like to live this sort of ‘double-life’ of Sunday Christianity. The fact that you’re deeply discontent about it shows that God’s Spirit is in you, stirring within you a desire to make Jesus your all-in-all again. 

      I don’t have a simple solution to your problem, and it’s difficult to give you good pastoral advice from a distance. There are some books that might be of help to you though. My feeling is that you probably need to rediscover God’s amazing grace again, because only grace and bring about the kind of hungering after God and changed life that you so desperately desire. Have you read Tim Keller’s “Prodigal God”? Or an older book called “Transforming Grace” by Jerry Bridges or “What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Phillip Yancey?

      Other books that might be helpful in your situation would be Tim Chester’s “You Can Change”, John Piper’s “When I Don’t Desire God”, Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”.

      Ultimately though, these books are only a guide. The only way that you can get yourself out of this ‘rut’ you feel is to re-encounter God in such a way that will drive you afresh to the cross in repentance and trust. That isn’t anything these books, or I, can do. Only the Holy Spirit can. However I am confident that God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion, so please keep desiring to desire God. I will also pray for you. 

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