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Beating Bitterness

Blog: Beating Bitterness

By Dustin Neeley, A29 member and planter of The Crossing Church, in Louisville, Kentucky. He also runs “Church Planting for the Rest of Us,” a resource website and blog for church planters.

As most of you know, ministry is tough.

And it isn't just the long hours and fallen world that make it tough. It is also the emotional toll that it takes on the pastor and his family. These obstacles, unresolved conflicts, wounds from the past, and other difficult interactions naturally occurring in pastoral ministry create a perfect storm of bitterness that can cripple a pastor, his family and his church.

While most of us already know that bitterness is a sin, what many of us don't know is how to effectively deal with it in a gospel way. Here are a few suggestions to help:

1. Take it all to Jesus.

Many times when we struggle with bitterness, we get angry with ourselves for struggling at all. We say things like "I'm a pastor. I shouldn't feel this way. I need to just get over it..." While this may be true in smaller instances, many times, in the midst of our "manning up," we are simply pushing down toxic emotions that will only fester and come back later to further harm us. We need to follow the example of the psalmists and take all of our emotional rawness before God. He already knows what is in our hearts and the deep confession of both our sin and our hurt will lead to deep healing.

2. Forgive the offending party even when they don't ask to be forgiven.

While it is optimal to seek full reconciliation in person, in some situations that's not possible. Even so, it is a biblical command to forgive those who have wronged us in light of the good news that we, ourselves, have been forgiven. As we depend upon God to do this, we will experience his power in a profound way.

3. Turn off the movie in your mind.

When we have been wronged, it is common for us to replay the situation in our minds over and over—to say that hurtful thing we wish we had said in the moment, to do that thing we wish we'd done. But every time the movie plays, it is our old heart rolling the film, not our new one. We need to see these moments as temptations from the evil one and flee from them immediately. Nothing good comes from them.

4. Filter the experience through the lens of Scripture.

It's easy to preach sovereignty when things are in our favor, but it is equally true in the moments that hurt. As we walk through the process, we begin to see that even these offenses have a purpose in God's process of making us more like Jesus. Remember that nothing has escaped his sovereign hand and he is only a prayer away to help you deal with it.

5. Pray for the person who hurt you.

When we get to this point, we know the gospel is really taking root in our hearts. Sometimes, by God's grace, this happens immediately. Other times, it may take years. Either way, it is both the example and call of Jesus to us to pray for those who have hurt us. Through his Spirit at work within us, we have the resources we need to fulfill his commands.

Beating bitterness is tough, but if we don't, it will beat us. If we go to God and allow him to bring both conviction and healing, we, our families, and our churches will be better for it.

How are you dealing with your bitterness today?


Chris Land

on Sep 16, 2010 :: 9:02 am

My bitterness goes back to the pastor I served with while I was youth pastor. He would do things behind my back and always took over the ministry because he felt the church was his and he will run it as he sees fit.

Recently, he was forced to resign from our church then started a new one with people who left our church to be with him. I must admit the bitterness is still there.

While dealing with it, I have taken it to Jesus. I have admitted to God that I hated the pastor and even called him a SOB. I have to confess that it is hard to pray for him. The movies in my head have been getting better but I felt my ministry was damaged because of him which is why we have no youth and I was relieved of my youth pastor duties. It is an ongoing process that I hope will result in holiness and restoration on my part.

Dustin Neeley

on Sep 16, 2010 :: 2:58 pm

Chris, thanks for sharing your story. Stepping out on a limb here, but I think it could be very beneficial for you to talk to another pastor about these issues. They seem pretty fresh and could be hindering your ministry and growth in Jesus. Do you have anybody in your life that could speak to it? If not, let me know and I can try to connect you with someone. Praying for you.


Dustin has been the Planter and Lead Pastor of Crossing Church since Crossing’s inception in 2005. Before planting Crossing, Dustin was a Teaching Pastor/Elder at Sojourn Community Church here in Louisville, KY. Dustin’s ministry history also includes extensive experience with youth and college students, several years of traveling speaking and leading worship around the United States as well as writing two independently published books and recording five music cds. 

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