Those Frustrating Times With Church Members
Any pastor can tell you about it. Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some church members are not going to forgive you. You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.
"Those are the exceptions," I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty. It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else. It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws. Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal. But that two percent will kill you.
I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as an unworthy child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s people more than the precious times. Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and hard words feed into my own insecurities. Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times. It’s human nature, I know. Help us, Lord.
Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….
1. The church member who is mad at you needlessly
On returning from an out-of-town engagement, a staff member told me I needed to call Selma, that she was angry about something. Selma was married to a deacon, a good guy, and they were not high maintenance but generally supportive. I could not imagine her being angry with anyone. I called her immediately.
“My sister is in the hospital and none of you have come by to visit.” That was her complaint.
I said, “We have. I was there two days ago and I’ll be there tomorrow. Someone from our staff has been there every day. We’ve not missed a day coming to see her and praying for her.”
She was quiet, then said, “Well, I didn’t know it.”
I said, “Is that a problem?”
“We were all in the waiting room,” she said, “and it does look like you could have come by to see us.” I said, “Selma, I couldn’t find the SICU waiting room. I looked all over for it.”
Nothing would satisfy her. She was angry and hurt and no words of mine would erase the pain. Finally, I said, “Selma, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
A purist would say I had nothing to apologize for, and they would be right. But she was hurting and if my words would ease the distress, I could certainly do that.
She muttered something about it being all right and ended the call.
A few years later, I did her husband’s funeral and we continued to be friends for the rest of my ministry in that church.
2. The church member who will not be reasoned with
Annie was a young mother in the church, married to an insurance man. He and I were fairly close friends, I thought, but I was still trying to find the combination for befriending Annie.
We had had a fundraiser, “Crafts for Missions,” the ladies in the congregation called it. They brought items they’d hand-crafted to the church and people looked them over, and purchased them. Everything raised went to missions. I was proud of these wonderful friends, but Annie was having a problem with it.
Her husband had phoned to say they were thinking of leaving the church over this. Knowing him, I figured she was the problem. And I was right.
Before calling her the next day, I researched the biblical subject of raising money for the Lord’s work. I asked three questions:
a. Is there a scriptural principle to support selling crafts for missions? (The principle that most fits here is “redeeming something given to the Lord.” A firstborn son, for instance, could be redeemed for 5 shekels. Or two pigeons if the family was poor. And for first-born animals, etc.)
b. Is there a scripture that prohibits what we are doing? (None that I could think of.)
c. Are we detracting from our people tithing to the overall ministry of the church? (Absolutely not. Our people were giving far above the average. So, this was not interfering with the tithe.)
So, I called Annie. And proceeded to share these three principles. At the end, I asked for her thoughts on the subject.
“Well, I am not a Bible scholar,” she said. “I cannot argue scripture with you. But I know in my heart I’m right. And when I’m right nothing changes my mind.” When. I’m. Right. Nothing. Changes. My. Mind.
That’s what she said. According to my notes, the conversation went on, but got nowhere.
In the afternoon, her husband called and I recounted the conversation. He basically told me how impossible it was to live with her. I felt only compassion for him. I told my wife all of this that evening. She said, “Annie is beautiful. But you get past that real quick.” Indeed. Most of us may be said to be drawn to beautiful people. But once we find their inner spirit to be hard and their attitude harsh, the outer beauty actually works against them. Cruella deVille, you will recall, was actually beautiful. In a harsh way.
That couple stayed in the church until his job moved them to another city. And you wonder why pastors get gray headed. Pray for your pastor. And if you can think of anything which might ease his burden, do it.