Wendy Alsup on Demonstrating Faithful Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Disappointment

Wendy Alsup is the author of several books, including Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness. She writes at theologyforwomen.org.

After months of quarantine, I finally received the email I dreaded, but one I figured would eventually come. After postponing discipleship conferences with local churches to October, then December, the final word came in. Our entire discipleship ministry, the one in which I just started teaching and found deep joy, was shutting down, no longer able to pay the barebones staff that had been treading water until churches could host us again. It was a sobering loss, but not surprising.

My brother-in-law is a pastor in upstate South Carolina. He and his wife shared with me their grief when they realized that they had to completely cancel their summer vacation Bible school, after months of planning and regardless of handwashing protocol.

My own pastor, ministering in our cross-cultural church plant, shared with me the impact of the loss of our community’s call and response pattern of worship, which cannot be replicated through our current options to broadcast live services. It sounds small to some, and yet it has impacted our congregation in real ways. Most of all, we have lost contact with folks we were discipling, fragile buds just beginning to bloom into true discipleship. Though core members have hung together and grown closer, we weekly note the number of fringe attendees, those just beginning to feel a part of our church community, who have fallen away despite efforts to reach out and include them.

The evangelical church in America needed refining. But along with those things that needed to be pruned, it seems ministries are losing many good opportunities that fit God’s call to disciple the nations. Pastors sought God’s face before making their plans. Their ministries moved into the doors God seemed to be opening. In light of global suffering from the pandemic and racial injustice, such ministry losses may seem trivial to some. But they are not trivial. These losses affect pastors and ministry leaders in real ways, though sometimes we don’t even know how to name the feeling of loss they bring.

Ministry losses are piling up for pastors as hopes they had for their churches and joys they found in their ministries seem destroyed by the stifling measures we must all take right now to love our neighbor and slow the spread of this pandemic.

Before I got the email about my beloved discipleship ministry closing its doors, God had already been preparing me for this loss. My Bible reading during the last few months was in the book of Jeremiah. I was reading Jeremiah to better prepare me for the very discipleship initiative that had just been shut down. Two weeks before receiving that final email, I was haunted by God’s words to Baruch, Jeremiah’s faithful scribe in Jeremiah 45.

This is what you are to say to him: “This is what the LORD says: ‘What I have built I am about to demolish, and what I have planted I am about to uproot. But as for you, do you pursue great things for yourself? Stop pursuing! For I am about to bring disaster on everyone’— this is the Lord’s declaration—‘but I will grant you your life like the spoils of war wherever you go.’ (Jeremiah 45:4-5 CSB)

As God’s discipline descended on the idolatrous kings of Israel, and the people who followed their lead, it also descended onto Baruch and Jeremiah, who had faithfully ministered to the people in God’s name. God’s words to Baruch are stark and, at first, seem small comfort. But maybe these words reflect more than what they first appear to say. I love the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I imagine God speaking similar words to Baruch in Jeremiah 45, though with a stronger voice of authority than I traditionally associate with Psalm 46. Be still, Baruch. I am God, Baruch! You will lose some things, Baruch, but I will protect your life wherever you go. Trust me! I know what I am doing.

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Source: Christianity Today