My Transition From Seeking Recognition to Learning to Act Caringly
I was a new pastor, about one year into it, and some people in the congregation started complaining that I was cold, uncaring, and aloof. The truth was that I was shy, socially awkward, and tall. I was also driven to succeed, to make things happen, and I had the theology to back it up: "We are to be and make disciples," beginning in our home area and working our way out to the world (Matthew 28:18-20). I believed that everything else was a sideshow, a waste of time—what Pascal called "licking the earth."
One of my favorite sayings was, "Discipleship is the name of the game; it's the only game in town. If you are here for any other reason, I am not sure why you are here. We are not here for the music; we are not here to socialize; we are not here to see our friends; we are here to get trained, equipped. You are soldiers, warriors. Otherwise, stay home, play golf, watch TV, putter around in your garage. Don't waste your time here." I am sure there was a mean look on my red face and that people were slumping in their chairs, trying not to get burned by my fiery darts.
The complaints spread, and I went to my superintendent to find out what to do. I told him about the progress that was being made but that some in the church were unhappy with me. He said, "I know about the complaints. I have had several calls." He saw that I was angry and said, "Bill, they are just afraid that you might push them right out of the church. They don't think you care about them." He went on to explain what I should do: "Next week when you complete your sermon, tell the congregation that you know that some believe you are cold, uncaring, and aloof. Ask them to help you learn to love and to communicate how you really feel toward others."
I was appalled.
"I can't say that! They will think I have a problem," I sputtered. He looked at me with a smile and said, "Bill, they already know you have a problem. I promise you that if you tell them you are sorry and that you want their help, they will come out of the woodwork to affirm you."
So that Sunday I did as he recommended. I even said, "Would you help me learn to love?"
My mentor was a prophet. The congregation embraced me. For the next few years, the church coached me in good humor about how to act caringly. It was a turning point because they helped me and I was better able to help them. How? By trusting that God would work in them and by recognizing that they wanted what I wanted, a vibrant life in Christ. I found freedom in understanding that they would not necessarily go about it the same way I would.
Here's a case in point: One day I asked a church member to go door-to-door with me in the neighborhood, and we visited a man who was unusually rude. He answered the door and said, "What?" obviously annoyed by our presence. I introduced ourselves and said that we were so glad his wife had visited our church the previous Sunday. He shot back, "Look, I don't care what my wife did. I don't need any of that!" After a few more choice words, he slammed the door in our faces. This encounter was not what the church member wanted or expected. He was shaken. I needed to realize that sheep normally don't go to war; they don't do daring things. I had to rethink how I might help them.
I am still learning how to love and care for others. It is a daily quest rooted in the soil of everyday life. Will I empty the dishwasher for my wife? Will I invite to lunch a lonely person who can't help me in any way? Yes, this transition is long, but there are milestones, those moments we remember when something important changed.
 Malcolm Muggeridge, A Third Testament (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), xiii
Written by Bill Hull
Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.