It is difficult to hear that someone has stopped coming to church because they dislike you as their minister. I have personally heard this statement and I have to say it has consumed me at times. I don’t like to think that someone might not like me. I’m a likable guy…at least that is my perception. But I guess you cannot please everyone.
My heart broke a little when I heard, “Such-n-Such said s/he cannot wait for Jim to leave.” But I have moved on and feel like I have grown a little. As I have wrestled through this I have come up with a couple of conclusions to help me deal with it in the future.
1. Fall Guy – the truth is I may simply be the fall guy or the excuse not to come to church. I have heard from people that these people’s excuse is that “they just don’t connect with me.” Now I have written them letters inviting them back but for some I only see them on Christmas Eve or if their children are doing something extremely special. It is really hard to connect with people in a few instances on really busy days. As I have dug I have found out there might be other reasons, family schedules, other Sunday commitments and other excuses. I feel I have done what I can to reach out and offer up a place of welcome and hospitality. I may simply be the fall guy as an excuse not to come to church.
2. Shoe Wearer – I know I am different than the last minister. I am not into the same thing he was into and I am not as extroverted as he is. People who were drawn to him as a minister have missed that aspect in their minister. I’m introverted and more quiet. I’m better one on one and not in a crowd. I’m not the life of the party. I have realized that I cannot fill those shoes, I have my own to wear. Once again the problem is not with me personally. I am who God has made me to be. I can have moments when I step out of who I am, be extroverted for a bit, but I will go back to my natural state soon after. I am comfortable with that, others will just have to come along with me too.
3. Mistake Maker – There are times when I have offended people because of something I said from the pulpit or failed to do something that was expected. When brought to my attention I will happily admit that I did something wrong and offer apologies. I don’t have a huge ego to stroke and I am happy to deal with where I have messed up and admit it. In one sermon I mentioned that Joel Osteen worshiped money instead of God. That brought some criticism and I had some conversations with people. That lead me down a path to read some of Joel’s books and listen to about 10 of his sermons. I admitted that I could have rephrased that part of the sermon better and maybe not named Osteen by name. But I did stand by the theology and I didn’t change my opinion on Osteen. I can work with people who let me know they are upset with me. Although I hate conflict I am willing to work through it and get to an understanding. I cannot work with people who are upset and then don’t let me know. Those who passive aggressively sulk at home, mad as a hornet, because of something I didn’t know I did.
I have come to the understanding that church work will leave some causalities. There will be people who don’t like you for whatever reason. What I need to remember is to attempt to take the personal feelings out and look at the situation with keen eyes. I have learned to go to the source and not triangulate (don’t add to or encourage the rumor mill!). I have also come to the conclusion that when all avenues have been perused and traveled, I have done what I can do. I am always looking for opportunities to bring sheep back to the flock, but I can only invite and encourage, the rest is up to them.
I have also tried to focus on the good that is happening. I stay aware of the brown spots but there is also a ton of good stuff happening that far out weighs the bad. If I stay focused on bruise then all the ripe fruit around it will be missed and not enjoyed. Ministry is about fruit and as God produces fruit through us, bruises and brown spots will occur. We need to spend time on those spots but we, I, need to not be consumed by them.