Disappointments and the Pastor’s Heart

Human beings disappoint us. Every single one of them will eventually; that is, if they haven’t already and probably many times over. Just give it enough time and it is bound to happen one way or another.
Disappointment seems to be part and parcel of being in a relationship with anyone. To love and trust deeply means to allow myself to become vulnerable to being disappointed, deeply. We wish it weren’t so, but such is the nature of love. Every intimate and long-lasting relationship has to suffer disappointment inevitably—between friends, between lovers, between leaders and their followers. It’s like a rite of passage, if you will.
To love deeply means to allow myself to become vulnerable to being disappointed deeply. Click To Tweet Disappointment brings the moment of truth in which the mettle of the friendship is tested. Accustomed to seeing only the best sides of who a person is in the beginning, will a relationship survive the moment that the worst in that individual is finally revealed to me? And when their worst is far worse than I had imagined? Or when they do something that hurts the relationship?

Unavoidable Hurt

To avoid being hurt and disappointed by someone would necessitate encasing myself away seclusion or just leaving this planet altogether. The next best thing would be to keep relationships at arm’s-length so that I never have to trust anyone too much or hope in them too deeply. This “pseudo-love” allows me to minimize the negative effects of loving and trusting in humans. That doesn’t sound like a very good solution either.
That’s the catch-22: to not love is to deprive ourselves of the very thing for which we were made. To love is to open myself up to a thousand disappointments that feel like daggers thrust into our hearts. So which is the better way to go? Many opt for the latter route.
(This may be one of the prime culprits for why people want to be in community, but not commit to a spiritual community: they want to feel the intimacy that community offers, but find it hard to stick around when disappointment comes crashing in.)

What Disappointments Can Do to a Pastor’s Heart

As pastors and church leaders we wish we would have graduated from harboring resentment against someone for the hurts they’ve caused us. We wish when someone we trusted in and invested into leaves our church for less than spiritual and noble reasons, we could love them unconditionally and forgive them graciously. Well, that’s what we are “supposed” to do, or so they say!

A Human Reaction

If only they could see us behind closed doors throwing a violent fit, in a way that would stun any church member had they seen us in our unfiltered moment! The pastor’s heart is still a human heart that bleeds red when punctured. Though our initial reactions may be similar, our hope is that being a more spiritually mature man or woman means that with a little bit of wrestling it out with God privately, we will arrive at the right conclusion more quickly than before.


Ultimately though, it’s not the long hours or the hard work of planting a church or the financial worries that breaks our spirits; it’s the barrage of disappointments from people that takes the wind right out of our sails. Furthermore, we must take into account that as pastors and spiritual leaders, we are trying to lead possibly the most unfaithful generation in history where commitment to anything is a bad word (except to your own happiness). Promises now are held loosely. Leaving community is lauded in the name of personal fulfillment and achieving one’s dreams. What that means for us is that we live in a time of unprecedented disappointments that are aimed at the pastor’s heart in an attempt to bring them to their knees.

Lasting Effects

Upon careful introspection of myself, I have seen the cumulative effects of disappointments have had on my heart over the years. I notice that I don’t look at people in the same way that I used to. There’s a discernible jadedness and listlessness in the way I view people.  Others may not detect it in me, but I do. It’s almost as if I expect them to fail, break their promise, disappoint me in some way, and eventually leave one day. This way, when they do disappoint, I’m neither surprised nor affected that much. (But then again, how much of it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy?)
One could say that I have outgrown my child-like naiveté about the nature of people and that I have a more realistic set of expectations towards them. Could be true in part. Or it could also be that I have grown tired and cynical towards people and the games we play. Maybe I’ve gotten tired of the roller coaster of the ups and downs.

Conventional Wisdom

The way Christian leaders in the West have tried to answer this dilemma is by resorting to professionalism. Instead of allowing for intimacy with those we are discipling, we maintain a professional relationship with them the way one would think of a therapist keeping a professional distance with her client. We still “love” people, but from far enough away to not let their coming or going leave a mark on our hearts. Sounds like a good piece of wisdom, right?

Jesus Experienced Disappointment

One of the most baffling things that Jesus did was at the Last Supper. He knew that in a few hours’ time, his disciples—his best friends—would betray him and abandon him to the Roman soldiers to be unjustly tried and crucified. Despite knowing what they were about to let happen to him, it was on this night that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He re-affirmed his love for them, called them his friends, and promised that he would never leave them. Instead of retreating to a professional distance from them, Jesus pressed in closer to his disciples all the more.  In fact, this was the most intimate and vulnerable of a Jesus we see recorded in all of Scripture!
Instead of retreating from the disciples who would betray, Jesus pressed in more closely at the Last Supper Click To Tweet Jesus was well-acquainted disappointment. He felt the pangs of betrayal from his friends. Yet, time and time again, Jesus entered headlong into the throes of intimate human relationships and relentlessly pursued his disciples in love, the pain of it notwithstanding. How much of Jesus’ intimacy with his disciples should inform our way of relating to those we are discipling? We know the answer all too well.

How Jesus Was Able to Handle Disappointment  

Jesus’ example and command to us is to grow in intimacy with those we disciple. Maintaining a professional distance is not an option. How  then can we continue to love the disciples and press into a deeper, more intimate relationship with them without letting disappointments—or the fear of being disappointed—estrange us from them?

  1. Remembering that trust and love are different.  We often think of love and trust as being synonymous. They are not. They are closely related, but they are not the same. Hypothetically speaking, I can love my 16-year-old daughter to the moon and back, but not necessarily trust her behind the wheel of a car. My love for her is totally unaffected even if she were to smash our car into a tree, but I will think twice the next time she asks me for the car keys. She will never have to prove that she is worthy of my love, but she will have to prove that she is worthy of my trust. (Scientifically, you can say that love is the constant and trust is the variable.)

In the same way, Jesus loved his disciples unconditionally, but his trust in them was conditional upon their faithfulness. Jesus expected his disciples to “wreck the car,” so to speak, which is why he wasn’t surprised at all when they did, and they did often! But none of it changed his love for them. For Jesus, these were issues of trust-worthiness, not love-worthiness. Love knows no boundaries; trust, on the other hand, does.
How would it free us to love people unconditionally and extravagantly when we distinguish between the damage a disappointment can do to our trust, but not our love?

  1. Remembering that Jesus’ faith in the Father was deeper than his faith in his disciples.  Jesus’ trust in the Father greatly exceeded that of his trust in his disciples, which is why he could remain poised, confident, and full of faith even when the disciples were screwing up everywhere. The moment that our trust in humans begins to overshadow our trust in God, when we put more stock in the promises of humans than the promises of God’s steadfast and faithful love is when we have set ourselves up for massive disappointment.

In whom do you place your ultimate faith?  Your church members?  Your team?

  1. Remembering that I’ve disappointed God far worse than any person can disappoint me.  It is perfectly right to be disappointed by people’s violation of our trust, but there is a point in which one can be overly-disappointed by the failures others. Our over-reaction to people’s sins—and our consequent unwillingness to extend forgiveness and grace to others—is indicative of a self-righteous heart. We have lost perspective of the magnitude of disappointment in which I have caused in God’s heart and that I am the undeserving recipient of His tremendous kindness and grace. Conversely, living with the joy and gratitude brought upon by the gospel makes me compassionate and generous in my dealings with others, and far less reactionary.

We are called to intimate relationships with those we are entrusted to disciple, fully knowing that disappointment comes with the territory of human intimacy. Human relationships is a prickly rose. It’s a beautiful and painful experience. You can’t live without it and it’s hard to live with it. Even though our temptation as disciple-makers and leaders may be to retreat into professionalism, we are given the power to handle the disappointment in a supernatural way that testifies to the transforming work of God that begins in our own hearts.
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About the Author

Bryan Staab

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