“No one supported me.”
“I didn’t matter to anyone.”
“You didn’t even care.”
Those are among the hardest things a pastor can hear from his congregation, whether it’s about him directly or not. These lines are also some of the most biting things a church member can say and, no doubt, one of the most painful things a church member can feel. And yet the feelings are felt, and even the thoughts expressed, quite frequently in the life of the church.
The situations which lead people to feel unloved are easy to imagine.
• A pastor fails to visit a family after their daughter is tragically killed in a car accident.
• A new couple visits the church for 6 months. They never get invited to the pastors’ home. So they start looking at other churches.
• A new graduate student feels invisible because he’s single and shy. No one makes an effort to get to know him. After a few months slipping in the service, he gives up on your church, and maybe on church altogether.
• A young man gets a call from the elders because he’s gotten a girl pregnant. He’s never met the elders before and now feels like he’s facing the inquisition. He doesn’t deny he’s sinned, but the pastoral care he’s now receiving seems unloving.
• One of your pillar families grows spotty in their attendance on Sunday morning. Eventually they drop out altogether. By the time you notice, they’ve been gone six months. Once you call, it’s too little too late.
• A new mother notices she isn’t invited to the mom’s Bible study. She’s not sure why, but she assumes it has something to do with her background. After a year of feeling isolated her family leaves the church because it is too cliquish.
The scenarios are endless and they are all painful, for the sheep and for the shepherds. So how should church members respond when they feel unloved, unsupported, or like outsiders in their church? And how should church leaders respond when they are criticized for being unconcerned or the church is faulted for being unloving?
The easy response is to assume that the other side is always wrong. I’ve talked with Christians before (not necessarily from my congregation) who harbor a long list of grievances with their church. They never stop to consider that they might be something other than helpless victims. They might be part of the problem. On the flip side, I’ve been at pastors’ gatherings where the assumption behind all the conversations, jokes, and complaining is that they’re ministering faithfully and the church just doesn’t get it.
Both sides would be helped to ask a few questions before putting their feet together and jumping to conclusions.
We’ll look at those questions over the next two days.