I understand why a pastor is prone to think about how these people drive him crazy. I’ve done that myself. But it was crucial to my spiritual health and to my success in ministry that I make a change in my thinking. Rather than seeing them as people who drive me crazy, I have preferred to see them as people I’m particularly called to love—people who stretch and grow my ability to love.
In a recent and widely-shared article, a pastor provides a series of profiles of church members who “drive him crazy” and make pastoral ministry “less than fun.” Though he tells of his love for the local church and his commitment to it, he also says that every church he knows has “members and attenders that get under the skin of a leader.” His article is meant to provide a brief description of each, perhaps to allow other pastors to commiserate or perhaps to provide a kind of warning to Christians, as if to say “don’t be like these people.”
Like almost every other church leader, I have encountered some members who have been abnormally difficult for various reasons (though, to be fair, I expect most church members have also encountered some pastors who have been abnormally difficult). These are a microscopic minority of the people who have called our church home over the years, but by their very nature, they tend to punch above their weight. Setting aside those who are living in unrepentant sin or attempting to destroy the church through divisive behavior (and who, therefore, ought to be under the discipline of the church), I’ve had to ask: how am I, as a pastor, to relate to particularly difficult people?
I understand why a pastor is prone to think about how these people drive him crazy. I’ve done that myself. But it was crucial to my spiritual health and to my success in ministry that I make a change in my thinking. Rather than seeing them as people who drive me crazy, I have preferred to see them as people I’m particularly called to love—people who stretch and grow my ability to love. I begin with the thought of how my own behavior must often be “less than fun” in the eyes of God and how I do so much that could “get under his skin.” Yet he does not grumble about me, though he certainly could. He does not get annoyed or ashamed, though I certainly give him every reason to. He does not see me as a problem child, though I certainly am. Rather, he continues to care for me with patience, kindness, and perseverance. He continues to seek my good. He continues to love me.
In that vein, here are those same 10 people—10 people that preset a special challenge to love in a special way. (The words in quotes and/or italics are drawn from the original article.)
- The “doom and gloom” member: This person is prone to grumbling about what goes on in the life of the church. This person needs extra reassurance and needs to have me gently explain to him the distinction between matters that are major and minor, between matters that demand strict obedience to God’s Word and matters that can vary based on conscience. Much of what he considers a sign of imminent doom may actually be a lack of understanding between issues that mark a standing and falling church and issues that are simply not matching his preferences.
- The “on the edge of leaving” member: He often suggests he is going to need to leave over one issue or another. In my worst moments I may be tempted to wish he would. But then I remember that the Good Shepherd knows that at times he must leave the 99 to pursue the one. While we may think of that one as a helpless, naive wanderer, what’s to say he’s not a bitter or disobedient sheep whose wandering has been deliberate? So I take my cue from the ultimate Shepherd and do what I can to seek him out and bring him back.
- The “amateur theologian” member: This member either has an extensive grasp of theology or merely thinks he does. He then often uses that knowledge to debate the pastors and even to promote his own stance on issues. Acknowledging that many people are smarter, wiser, and better-trained than I am, I commend his knowledge and love of knowledge, and see where I can use it to serve the church. Of course I may also attempt to help him better understand which theological issues are matters of dispute or conscience, perhaps by leading him through a text like Romans 14.