How to Minister to People You Don't Like
Many pastors and church leaders face an insidious problem that is rarely spoken of. This issue has the potential to derail a ministry or even end a pastor’s career. It is not a hidden sin like sexual perversion or substance abuse, but something simpler and even more commonplace.
Today, we address ministering to members of the congregation whom you simply cannot learn to like, or, worse yet, even despise.
Some readers may be reading this slack-jawed, never imagining that their pastors or other church leaders could ever detest someone, or even dislike someone. Pastors and other church leaders who read read this, however, may be all too familiar with the situation.
Pastors are human and suffer human frailty, including character traits that may conflict with others. Many pastors and leaders, however, cover up their feelings very well. Instead of dealing with their dislike of some parishioners, they employee a sort of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy towards such folk, and, as a result, end up ignoring and avoiding them.
How should pastors and other church leaders deal with people they simply don't like?
We break this out into three more fundamental questions.
- What does God say about such situations?
- What is the attitude of the one with whom there is a problem?
- How should the pastor or church leader deal with his or her own attitudes?
Those who deal with members of the congregation that they just cannot learn to like should consider themselves blessed. The relationship that they endure may be a test of their faith or a trial to be overcome. God would not place them in such a situation without a lesson to be learned. Relations with people that are difficult to love is an opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually, to learn to love others more, and to learn to walk closer to our Lord.
Some pastors, however, may steer clear of certain people for other reasons. It could be that the aversion he or she feels toward certain people is not dislike or disdain so much as spiritual insight into the people. Perhaps the pastor has seen a glimpse of the person behind the mask and the Spirit has placed a barrier between them to keep the pastor from harm’s way.
The pastor should seek God’s guidance before assuming either position. What does God say about such situations? Paul gives good advice Timothy about people who are difficult to deal with (2 Timothy 2:23-26). He tells Timothy to avoid foolish controversies because they may lead to quarrels. He follows that by advising him to altogether avoid quarrels. He links avoiding quarrels with being kind to everyone. He relates kindness with the ability to teach. This seems to imply that one who is not kind to everyone may be in ineffectual teacher. This is a valid point and one that pastors should consider before deciding how to deal with his relationship with those in the congregation that he just can’t seem to like.
Pastors dealing with parishioners who are hard to love may want to seek the assistance of that person's friends or family in setting up a group outing or dinner. The pastor should ask one or two of his trusted friends to join with the difficult person and his friends or family. Share a meal, begin a Bible study, schedule a prayer time, or an activity. Use the opportunity to listen to the person in question and ascertain his or her heart. What is the attitude? Answering that question may shed light on the entire situation. Because pastors may tend to avoid intimate time with those they do not like, they may never learn the reason behind the strained relationship.
Whether or not they gains enough insight to build a better relationship, the pastor bears an obligation to the unlikely person. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” - Luke 6:27-36 ESV
Perhaps part of the problem of unlovable parishioners resides within the pastor. He or she should ask God to examine his or her heart and reveal any hidden thing that may inhibit development of a mutually respectful relationship. Pastors, pray that you may love one another with brotherly love and outdo one another in honor (Romans 12:9-21).
What does it take to love those who seem unlovable? It may be easier to love them than to like them. Both take much prayer, tenacity, and effort. It should be the pastor, though, who makes the first move. Remember, the Golden rule reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It does not read, “As others do unto you, so do unto them.”
We should be proactive.