It is a sad truth that many of God’s most faithful ministers are abused and treated without honor by the very people they are serving. There are many pastors and missionaries who are mistreated and slandered by those who have benefited the most from their ministry.
This phenomenon is nothing new: the Apostle Paul himself experienced it when he planted churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece. In most places where he preached large numbers of people came to Christ. These people started churches, and at first they treated Paul with great honor and respect. After time, though, they began to subtly despise him. As they became more comfortable and familiar with each other they began to look down on the one who had led them to Christ. This was no doubt because Paul had the heavy responsibility of rebuking them and exhorting them when they sinned; pointing out their errors. The result was that he had to constantly put up with their criticism and self-righteous counterattacks. As time passed their self-confidence grew, and their respect for Paul waned. Eventually these churchgoers began to treat Paul and the other Apostles as inferior to themselves:
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. (I Corinthians 4:10 NIV)
Paul, and other missionaries like him, were frequently considered fools for Christ’s sake. Their responsibility for the church often required them to take a stand on important but controversial doctrines (the true gospel itself is often a source of controversy). The other church goers, on the other hand, did not shoulder the same responsibility. They could sit back comfortably and watch from a distance as the Apostle Paul argued and debated with heretics. They could critique his strategies and explain how they would have done it better if they had been the one in charge. They always seemed to be the prudent ones, because they were constantly critiquing Paul, but no one was critiquing them. They talked and joked with each other about the Apostles, making each other feel good, assuring themselves that they could have done a better job than the Apostles. It was easy for them to make themselves appear strong because they were not under the same duress nor did they shoulder the same responsibility as the Apostles, whose constant hardships made them look weak. Furthermore, these criticizers soon became distinguished as the church grew in both size and influence, and yet the very ones who had planted the church were without honor.
Many pastors and vocational teachers face the same problems and difficulties that the Apostle Paul faced. Many of them have discovered that success in the ministry does not always bring them honor. You can lead many people to the Lord, and faithfully shepherd and disciple them, and yet some of them will still turn around and criticize you over insignificant matters. Such is the lot of a true leader. Those who desire to be leaders need to know that this is what they will face in the ministry. But it is worth it for those who faithfully serve God. It is God, not man, who is our final judge, and He will one day reward all of His faithful servants publicly (Matthew 6:4).