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Countering Cynicism
Stay the Course, Finish the Course

By Raj Attiken
 
How do you work for the church and not become cynical? Some of the super stars of the church are leading double lives. Some of our pastors are struggling with secret addictions. Some of our elected leaders are incompetent for their roles, and others abuse their power. How can I stay positive and stay in the ministry when there is so much duplicity?
 
Exercising positive leadership in pastoral ministry is an expression of your aliveness. However, your energy, creativity, compassion, and love can seep away as you think about the realities you describe. You may feel tortured, betrayed, and powerless to change these realities. It is easy, then, to turn enthusiasm into cynicism. Many of us have been there. At least some of us have learned some ways to relate to this without numbing ourselves to the church in which we are invested.
 
Perhaps the most important piece of counsel I can give you is that you be intentional about protecting and nurturing your inner self, your soul, and keeping your heart from closing up. A common danger in pastoral ministry is to confuse one’s self with one’s role.  The all-too-common result is that you lose yourself in your role. When this happens, it makes it difficult for you to interpret and decipher what’s going on all around you without internalizing it.
 
Discover and practice the disciplines (spiritual, emotional, physical) that work for you to stay alive in your soul. This will go a long way to enable you to be faithful to whatever is true about your life and purpose, without acting out or fleeing.
 
Secondly, remind yourself periodically of those things that moved you to enter pastoral ministry, and those elements that generate passion for ministry today (These elements may change as you journey over the years). These are usually much bigger and grander than what people are and what people do within the church. They transcend the politics, policies, practices, and personalities in the church. This will help you anchor yourself in the calling to which you have committed.
 
Thirdly, be willing to acknowledge the brokenness that exists in the world and in the church. The issues you name are human issues, not just Adventist issues. While we have expectations that pastors and leaders will “lead a life worthy of [our] calling, for [we] have been called by God” (Eph. 4:1, NLT), we must also “be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of [our] love” (Eph. 4:2,3, NLT).
 
Fourthly, adopt an advocacy role and work for change and progress. There are numerous causes within and without the church that relate to the human condition and how it can be improved upon for the common good. Find one that appeals to you and become proficient at being an advocate for it. This may be one of the issues you have specifically named or it might be something else. Besides the rewards of your ministry, in general, such advocacy will bring you added energy, joy, and fulfillment.
 
Finally, seek sanctuary. This not only means to retreat periodically to a place of reflection and renewal – it also means to have a small and intimate community of confidants. Your confidants may have to be those outside the church’s boundaries. They are persons with few, if any, conflicting loyalties, who can provide you with a place where you can say what’s in your heart without being condemned or rejected.
 
The demands of ministry in the early decades of the 21st century on a pastor are heavy enough to be overwhelming for anyone. Add to that the disappointing actions and conduct of those in leadership and the situation becomes even more demanding. Pastors can, and must, take intentional steps to remain alive to their calling and effective in their roles.
 
Dr. Raj Attiken served as President of the Ohio Conference