It is very easy in pastoral ministry to “play the sympathy card”! After all, there are plenty of struggles and difficulties in such ministry and so there are many ways you can get people to sympathise with you.
I am reminded here of our Saviour. How, as He approached the cross, He was greeted by women weeping and wailing and expressing their sympathy for Him. His response is simply to say I don’t want your sympathy I want your repentance and obedience in the light of what is ahead. The passage reads in Luke 23:27-31:
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then
‘“they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”
For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
Similarly it is our desire and longing, that we want people to become followers of Jesus and not to be sympathisers of us in all our struggles.
One way in which this can all become so very complicated is through the subtleties of our hearts. We can easily use sympathy for us, to get those under our care, to be obedient to God, But I suggest that this is manipulative ministry and is not acceptable. Paul would talk in 2 Corinthians chapter 4 about how we should not be guilty of these practices. He says we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2). What I am thinking of here is getting people to live a certain way because you have spent so much time with them and/or spent so much money on them. As a result, so runs our persuasion, they should respond to go in God’s direction. Such manipulation is wrong.
Notwithstanding what I have written there are those times when it is appropriate to seek the prayers of the saints, so that they know we have struggles in this world as well. We do need to be genuine in seeking help whether practically or prayerfully for the furtherance of the ministry. These things bind us to our brothers and sisters. However, that is very different to using dubious means to accomplish good ends.