Ministry Leaders, Cynicism, and the Gospel
For those who don't know me personally, I'm 41. I admit at the outset that with only 20 years ministry experience (10.5 as an ordained pastor) I may not have enough experience yet to become cynical. I hope I'm wrong.
I write today because I'm troubled. I'm troubled because in the last couple of months two 50+ year old ministry leaders I respect have said in my presence that they've become cynical. One person I can understand. Two got me concerned.
Of all people the Apostle Paul should have been a cynic. And yet when you read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, cynicism is the opposite of what exudes from his heart. Why?
Given that text and the rest of Paul's writings my default answer is "the gospel". A reader (a cynical reader...) could say, "Duh! Why don't you say something different or profound"? Even in our gospel-centered circles, I see this tendency towards cynicism. Why?
Cynicism occurs when our cursed world (including our own bodies and their frailties) and/or curse-struck people annoy and frustrate us to the point of temporary hopelessness. "There's no hope!" or "There no hope for him/her!" screams our inner voice. When that voice screams, we must do what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and step back and get the big picture again.
In the big picture, there's great hope because of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present intercession of Jesus. Today dawned because Jesus is bringing His Kingdom to bear more and more and (amazingly!) using frail and twisted yet beloved, adopted, and redeemed people to do it. The curse in all its manifestations will one day be gone having given way to an eternal weight of glory.
People certainly get cynical about life "under the sun". But that's not what leads most of us to cynicism. The curse gets hardest for ministry leaders when it comes in the form of critics, stubborn sheep, leaders who are challenging to lead, and those who "don't get it". Where's the hope in those kinds of scenarios? For me, I must turn to Jesus anew and reflect on how He has acted towards me. And when I do that, my hope is renewed, my patience is restored, and my attitude toward difficult people transformed.
As I reflect on the past 23 years of my Christian life, Jesus has been extraordinarily patient with me regarding my idolatry of work. Only in the last 6 months has that idol's promises begun to become null and void. The look on my wife and kids faces when I return home "early" from work is corroding that idol to nothingness. For most of those 23 years I fully believed that idol's promises to the detriment of my health and that of my family. Jesus has been extremely patient with me as I worshiped non-God. And that patience bore fruit as the persistent Spirit of Jesus broke through the idol's false promises with true life, joy, and increasing freedom yielding rest and less worry, fear, and anxiety.
The reader might rejoice in my freedom but wonder what pertinence this has for cynicism. 1 John 4:19 is the key. "We love because He first loved us." We reflect what we sense we have received. If I sense I'm loved despite great sinfulness for the sake of Christ, I love despite great sinfulness for the sake of Christ. if I sense Jesus' patience with me for a sin pattern that took years to turn around, I can be patient with one whose sin pattern is taking years to turn around. I know what it's like to "not get it" and so I can bear with and love one who is "not getting it".
Cynicism in leaders 10 years older than me scares me. It scares me that perhaps the gospel will run out of luster when I've experienced more hardship. I pray for myself and those whom I know that we find the gospel not to be diminishing with time and difficulty but instead growing in magnificence. I hope that instead of turning to cynicism we find ourselves experiencing grace increasingly which causes us to abound in thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15).
May God gives us grace that this might be the case.