One piece of life, ministry, and church planting that has left me more broken and confused than I could’ve anticipated is relational loss. Ministry leaders pour out our hearts to love and serve others with the ever-present hope that the gospel is powerful enough to transform everything. And in God’s kindness, there are moments when we see the Spirit changing lives and restoring relationships. Yet often, it seems that ministry is a continual call to let go, to entrust those we love and serve into God’s faithful hand.
I believe that God can and will bring restoration and healing to relationships; that he will allow close friends to stay close and precious saints to remain for years. But what about those times he doesn’t? When our closest friends or family leave. When we’re forced to acknowledge that reconciliation on this side of heaven may never happen. How do we go on when God calls faithful servants to a new season, and we’re left to pick up the pieces once again?
How do we cultivate deep friendships while holding those relationships with an open hand? How do we continue to pour out our hearts, knowing that loving others means receiving wounds and enduring heartache? How do we nurture soft hearts toward those in our churches when our flesh pleads for self-protection?
We can navigate the tumultuous waters that come with ministry when we look to God’s Word, his Son, and our future hope.
Look to God’s Word
The Bible is full of broken relationships. From the very first relational breach when Adam and Eve chose sin over relationship with God, to Job crying in anguish, “My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14). When Paul was on trial, he said, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Mark abandoned the ministry team that eventually led to the breach between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13; 15:36). Paul’s friend, Demas, chose the world and its ways over God’s call and mission (2 Tim. 4:10).Often, it seems that ministry is a continual call to let go, to entrust those we love and serve into God’s faithful hand. Click To Tweet
As ministry leaders, we will face relational loss just like Adam, Eve, Job, and Paul. And yet, God’s Word assures us he will never leave us (Heb. 13:15). When all others fail, God will not. As we walk through these broken and painful relationships, we can be sure that God sees and provides just what we need. He gave himself for us through Jesus, and if he didn’t withhold his own Son, won’t he provide for us relationally? His Word is our confidence and our comfort.
Look to Jesus
Jesus faced relational loss like no other. The Bible says, “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). His brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5). His disciples abandoned him during his hardest moment in life (Matt. 26:56). His closest friends denied they even knew him (Matt. 26:69–75). He felt forsaken by his Father (Matt. 27:46).
When we face relational loss, when those we thought were friends, confidants, and companions disappoint, abandon, and even betray us, we can be confident that Jesus understands. Jesus, who calls us friends (John 15:15), understands and will never abandon or betray. He stands at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34).When all others fail, God will not. Click To Tweet
We have a Savior who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” because he, “in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus, more than anyone, understands the depth and hurt of relational loss. He understands betrayal, abandonment, denial. He understands rejection. When we face another lost relationship, another friend leaving, another family member turning their backs—look to Jesus. He understands.
Look to Our Future Hope
Our fallen human nature urges us to cling to the things of this world as if they were eternal. Relationships are included in this misplaced clinging. When God calls our friends to a new season away from us, it creates a soul ache so deep we often question if pursuing friendship is worth the pain of loss.Jesus, more than anyone, understands the depth and hurt of relational loss. He understands betrayal, abandonment, denial. He understands rejection. Click To Tweet
Faithful servants in the church who leave angry or hurt over seemingly small issues cause hurt and confusion. When loved ones die or friends leave, when spouses disappoint and children walk away, the pain of saying goodbye and entrusting these broken relationships into the Father’s hands can leave us broken and confused.
May we remember God’s promise that one day, there shall there be no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain” (Rev. 21:4). A day is coming when we will never again need to say goodbye—when all the relational brokenness we experience will be made right as we stand in the presence of the One who is perfect in relationship. When we experience brokenness, may it stir in us a longing for heaven, causing us to faithfully trust the Father as we wait for him.
Relational loss will accompany ministry leadership. But by God’s grace, we can generously love those in our churches and our communities to God’s glory. Trusting him for the strength to endure heartache while looking to him and anticipating our glorious future with Christ but without pain. Until that day, may we faithfully serve his people.