When RevGalBlogPals – the blog ring – was getting started almost ten years ago, I regularly read You’ve Really Got to Love Your People – a blog written by Sarah who now writes here. As a young adult, whenever I would complain about cranky people or selfish people or infuriating people – especially as a new pastor – my Dad would say, “Just Love ‘Em.” It was his answer for everything.
I felt like Sarah was channeling my Dad who had passed away before I started writing A Church for Starving Artists. (Thank you Sarah.)
Loving your people is huge, especially in the Church.
It’s possible to craft excellent sermons, create meaningful worship experiences, organize strong programs, and teach intellectually stimulating classes, but still fail as spiritual leaders because we don’t love our people.
Believe me, it’s easy to become cynical and sarcastic in Church World – even (especially?) as a leader. We hear people complain about the brand of creamer used during coffee hour or the bulletin cover art. We receive repeated commentary on the way things used to be. We are criticized for not juggling all duties equally – so the sermon might be weak this Sunday because we aspired to orchestrate a meaningful funeral on Thursday, or the mission trip details were shaky because it was also the week a new class was starting. In a small church the same people are often doing more than one Big Job and we simply can’t do everything equally well. But it’s okay.
If we love our people, the social and pastoral capital such love builds will minimize the drama of creamer brand debacles or the criticism over weak sermons. If we authentically love our people, we can share difficult truths with parishioners that can be heard. If we deeply love our people, we can move them into new paradigms less painfully.
Sadly, though, there are many pastors who do not seem to love their people. And here’s another truth: some people are excruciatingly difficult to love. They are impossible to please. They ooze meanness. Some of them seem to forget that church is About God and not about them.
Even love the bullies if at all possible. It always helps me to try to imagine bullies the way God must see them. Instead of seeing them as mean-spirited and cruel, God can melt our feelings into compassion. Mean people are often broken and they need unconditional love.
It’s one of the first pastoral responsibilities: to love our people. Just love ’em. And if they won’t let us love them, we then need to move on.
Maybe I’ll make a pillow.