But can he take a punch?

Apparently there was a big fight last weekend. You may have heard.

As I remain lacking in any true knowledge of boxing, the following supposition is pretty theoretical but, I think, also sound: if you were a boxing coach, I’m sure there would be several things you would look for in your student. You would want to see some natural speed, above-average strength and athleticism. But surely it is just as important in boxing that one be able to take a punch as well as throw one.

And so the point of this short article: if you desire to do any spiritual good in the lives of others, you must be able to take a punch. 

Other prerequisites are important. To be involved in ministry, we need to know our Bibles well enough to use them, we need to have a love for people, we need to have some measure of skill in conversation, etc. But, to my eyes, the oft-missing ingredient is the ability to suffer at the hands of those you’re trying to help. And it must be such a willingness that refuses to return the same punch.

I wish that we would start asking this of students hoping to become pastors: “Tell me when you were hurt by a Christian you were trying to help. How did you respond?” The answer to that question speaks as highly to qualification for ministry (pastoral or otherwise) as much as most of the other questions we ask.

Because the hurts will come. People who need ministry, well, they’re sinners – they wouldn’t need ministry if they weren’t. Sinners don’t always respond the right way. They don’t always recognize your sacrifice and love with immediate sanctification and a dozen grateful roses. Instead they might lash out at the closest thing to them: you. And if you aren’t ready to take the punch, working past the immediate pain back to their deeper needs, you won’t last long.

Friends in the congregation had a beloved dog. One day their dog ran across the busy road a little way from their house and was hit but not immediately killed. As anyone would do, they went to the rescue, to see if they could help at all. While trying to pick up the gentle but hurting dog, the father was bit badly. He never blamed the dog, understanding why it happened and grieving the accident rather than the bite. A good lesson for us all: when we’re hurt by others, let’s grieve the Fall from which all these punches flow, but let’s not dwell on the pain more than we must.

Please don’t be scared away from bringing grace into the lives of sinners. But please have your eyes open. Be ready to be hurt and to keep on loving them. Their souls may depend on your ability to take a punch.

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  1. Jon Stallings May 6, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    Too often people enter ministry thinking all is wonderful as we serve God and minister to others. However, their lives are messy and so are ours. We need to have some thick yet still pliable skin to stay the course.

  2. Rutledge Etheridge May 12, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks, Jared. This is really on point. Similar principle in karate – a good sensei will insist that the students learn how to take a punch, and then get lots of experience doing it! Students need to be able to deflect as well as absorb some pain, depending upon the circumstance of conflict. And to your point about ministry students and their training, a good sensei will never let a student leave the dojo thinking he can handle an attack which in reality would destroy him. Our seminaries need to be places of sanctified sparring!

    Often the people who need deep, heart level ministry are hurting and feel profoundly alone. Ironically, the more someone loves them in the name of Christ, trying to create a safe, relational space for them to find healing, the more that person becomes, as you said, a close, convenient target for all the bitterness and pain welling up within them and looking for an outlet. Some hurting people simply don’t know how to relate to other people in any other way than combat; they’ve been attacked so frequently that defensiveness by way of offense is a way of life. So there’s almost a sense in which, the more they trust the one ministering to them, the more vicious the treatment can be – a hard proof of trustworthiness!

    Yes, the minister must be ready to absorb some jabs and the occasional knockout inducing uppercut! But thank the Lord that we don’t minister alone. We have always with us our faithful Savior who absorbed the worst (and all) of our own sinful lashing out against God, and whose sufferings we come to understand more deeply as we minister in his name to the hurting. And he’s given us brethren in the ministry whose counsel can help deflect some some of the attacks and guide us in wise and gentle ministry in the fray. Your article came alongside me in that way today.

    Thanks again, Brother!

    • Jared May 19, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Good words, Rut. Thanks for the encouragement.


  1. Presence & Absence | Gentle Reformation - May 20, 2015

    […] couple weeks ago I wrote about a vital ministry skill, knowing how to take a punch, being able to minister to someone despite the hurt they may inflict on you in the […]

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