How to Minister to People Who Don't Like You
I was committed to obey the call of God no matter what. I was committed when I was ordained and released to plant a church in a community that did not approve of women in ministry, especially women pastors. I was committed when one pastor actually threatened my life if I followed through with the church plant. I was committed when Johnnie, my husband, greatest supporter, and best friend, died of a massive heart attack thirty days after the first church service. There was no doubt in my mind that God had called me to pastor in that season and in that community.
Good Things Happened
The church plant was not all up-hill. Many good things happened. The church grew with new converts rather than church transfers. My heart rejoiced to see people who had never been to church and did not own a Bible, give their lives to Jesus. Men and women, singles and couples, with lots of children of all ages, joined the church.
Within eighteen months, we were able to erect a church building. Although the church was small, the atmosphere was vibrant. The members were growing spiritually by leaps and bounds. Evidence of true conversion was seen in their lives. Vocabularies changed: no vulgarity every other word. Recreational activities changed: no nightclubs and gambling boats. Married couples stopped cheating. Single mothers decided to live alone until the father of their children asked for their hand in marriage. The Word of God was making a difference in the lives of the people and it was glorious to behold!
The leadership of the church and I worked hard to make sure the church was healthy. The cornerstone was prayer. Small groups were formed for everyone: men, women, children, singles, and couples. Cohesion, interaction and networking took place. The members visited each other in sickness, cried with each other in sorrow, and celebrated each others’s victories. We became a family.
I was moving so fast and was so excited about what God was doing in the lives of his people; it took me a minute to realize that not all of the members were happy. Surprise, anger, hurt, doubt, and discouragement overtook me once I understood that the cause of their unhappiness was me – the pastor. There were only a few, but they made their displeasure known to the entire membership through clandestine phone calls, secret meetings, and parking lot discussions. They practiced sabotage, manipulation, and lies. They wooed the people the same as Absalom wooed the men of Israel (2 Samuel 15:1-6): “If I was the pastor I would take better care of you.” I was hit from the blind side and I didn’t know what to do.
Over time and after making regretful mistakes, I learned to minister to people who don’t like me, and probably never will. The truths I learned may help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Pray – I learned to commune with my heavenly Father first before I responded to the situation. My instinct was to set the matter straight, address the issue, and confront the person first and pray later. But this was not the most effective practice. Once I had cried, vented, pleaded, and emptied all my emotions before God I could sense his guidance and see the situation much more clearly.
Consider the source – The spiritually immature, unethical and malcontent are in every walk of life and the local church is no exempt. I had to grow up and realize that hurt people hurt others and my position as the pastor did not prevent me from being a target.
Do not retaliate –I learned not to bleed on the congregation during worship service and not to preach a fiery message accusing everyone. I learned not to defend myself and let the Lord fight my battle.
Evaluate yourself - I learned to analyze their total complaint to see if there was a kernel of truth there. Was I so busy that I had become inattentive, impolite, impatient, or unloving? Were the administrative duties of running the church eclipsing my responsibilities as a shepherd? I corrected any fault I found on my part.
Extend peace and forgiveness – Jesus lists the steps to take when your brother sins against you. First, talk to him, just the two of you. If he will not hear you, try again with two or three others present. If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church (Matthew 18:15-17). Try to reconcile if at all possible. Forgive them so that you can be at peace with God.
Fortify with the Word – Scripture washes the mind and strengthens the heart. It is trustworthy and stabilizing. I learned that daily devotion is crucial in times of trouble.
Remember who called you – I had to remember who called, anointed and appointed me. I said “Yes, Lord” to God, not to the people. My commitment was to him. He never promised me it would be easy, just victorious, if I relied on him. I joined David in proclaiming, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:7a).
Allow God’s love to flow – I learned to love my enemy, bless those who cursed me, do good to those who spitefully used me and persecuted me (Matthew 5:43-44). Through many tears in my prayer closet, God fortified my heart with His love. If God loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten son to die for them, I had to love them as his undershepherd.
After twenty years, I am now retired as pastor from that church.
One of the valuable gifts the Holy Spirit empowered me with was to love the unlovable and minister to people who do not like me.