If you have pastored any length of time, then you know there will always be church members who won’t think you are the “greatest pastor in the world.” I remember a discussion I had with another pastor who was speaking with great animosity about a church member. After his rant, I paused, and then asked, “What right do you have to dislike someone God has entrusted to your care?” It needs first to be acknowledged that a shepherd doesn’t have the right to dislike certain sheep, regardless what that sheep has said or done. We must not be deceived into thinking that God, when we stand before Him and give an account of those in our charge, will accept our neglect because we have said, “But God they were mean to me!”
Sometimes the conflict involves an unconverted church member hostile to the gospel and those who preach it, but often we have rubbed a true Christian in our church the wrong way, unknowingly at times, and resentment in the heart of a sheep sets in toward the shepherd. Having acknowledged that we cannot dismiss care for someone entrusted to our care for any reason, how do we love, care, and shepherd someone who has grown hostile to us?
1) Take an interest in what they love and enjoy. I confess I have walked an indoor track with elderly ladies, gardened, played with rabbits, visited people in the hospital I didn’t know, ate food still unidentifiable to me, all to take an interest in what they love so to communicate love for them. Even if they don’t receive it well, this act of humility will sanctify you.
2) Seize moments to care for them in their greatest need. It is amazing how walls of hostility break down when you visit someone when they are hurting, sick, or grieving over a loved one dying. Richard Baxter affirmed this and said, “Even the stoutest sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before.”
3) Take your children when you go and visit them. A pattern established every time I visited a certain church member. I was constantly hammered with complaints when I went. I happened to stop by their house once when one of my children was with me. They treated me entirely different than before. They didn’t complain because they were too busy taking an interest in my child, playing with her, talking with her, and offering her cookies. Since then, my children have been one of my greatest assets in trying to build bridges with those struggling to trust me and receive my care.
Remember whether you are a church member or a pastor, we do not have the freedom to dislike and neglect loving, caring, praying, and serving any brother or sister in Christ. If you need any more incentive—just remember how unlovable we were when God crushed His Son on the cross so that we could be given new life.