Like many other ministry leaders, when I was first called to ministry, I had passion and zeal to change the world for Christ. After all, we get the privilege of introducing people to the creator of the world, to a God who can dramatically change the human heart for good. I couldn’t wait to see how God would use me in his epic story.
I quickly found out that ministry wasn’t as easy or as glamorous as I thought. That first summer, as an intern, a student drowned at one of our retreats. I can remember sitting in the hospital room with the brother of the student who just died. I thought, “Why did the youth pastor choose me to be here with the brother?” I felt so inadequate. Youth ministry is supposed to be about leading kids to Christ, discipling them and having fun. Yet here I was dealing with a tragedy. I learned that ministry was less about fun and more about walking with people through life, both the highs and lows.
Conflicts are a natural part of life. Learning how to resolve them becomes paramount if we are going to experience the closeness we all desire. Through the years, I have taught classes, seminars and counseled people on conflict resolution. I got to a point where I thought I was pretty good at it. But much to my surprise, occasionally I would run into conflicts that seemed impossible to resolve. I would shake my head and think, How can this be? What did I do wrong? I would review my tone, words, and body language. I seemed to be doing everything right.
Mind you, I am not suggesting that I always apply good conflict-resolution skills. But during these encounters I seemed to be doing it right. My strong desire to resolve the conflict kept me persisting in the conversations. I would think, “If I can show him that I understand him or phrase things just the right way, he’ll get it and we will resolve this issue.” But the conversation would get worse. Why?
Headlines announce the news of the failure of another Christian leader with depressing frequency. Just as sobering is the steady stream of pastors who leave the ministry, never to return, due to moral failures, burnout, or frustration with the pressures of the job. And many pastors faithfully carry on in their churches for years, but never truly thrive.
Pastors Samuel Rima and Gary McIntosh wrote their book, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, because they wanted to address these problems by helping pastors and other leaders to face their own issues in order to flourish in ministry.