Working With People Where They Are

Disciple-making, and pastoral ministry, in secular culture is slow, difficult work. It tests our ability to simply love people, leaving our agendas at the door in favour of selfless love.

Are you ever frustrated with people?

When I moved to my current role, I quickly became frustrated with many of the people I was serving. I had been told they were interested in a new church, but when I arrived, I found the opposite--apathy! And I spent a couple of months being frustrated with people for not being where I wanted them to be, rather than focusing on where they actually were.

Frustration with people often arises from that very thing: We want people to be at a certain place spiritually, and we blame them not being there. Instead, we need to learn how to accept people where they are at and love them for who they are.

We recently added a puppy to our family. We were all excited about this--especially the kids. But, as you might imagine, the kids underestimated their excitement about how much they would need to pitch in to help train the puppy and take her outside! 

​This reminds me of the principle that discipleship is slow work. The great joy we experience over someone who begins to turn towards Jesus is tempered by a period of high activity, energy, and investment from the disciple-maker towards the disciple. But it’s all worth it when a disciple grows in faith and even becomes a disciple-maker herself!

I had a breakthrough conversation last week with Aaron (name changed), my neighbor across the street. I had helped a homeless couple with shelter and food, which led me to want to meet more folks who were homeless. So I bought some loaves of bread, lunch meat and cheese, and a case of water and went down to the park to look for homeless people whom I could invite to have lunch with me. 

When Aaron found out, he “warned” me (his word) about not giving money to homeless people because they use it for drugs and alcohol. I told him I had a strict policy of not giving money in those circumstances, but I did want to share lunch with them if possible. (I didn’t find any folks to eat with that day, but I’ve decided to make a weekly visit to the park with lunch supplies.)

Aaron’s eyes took on a weird look and he asked why I would want to do that. He wasn’t critical; he was almost compassionate. I could tell, behind his question, that he was struggling to understand why someone like me would care about someone like “them.” So I shared with him one of my core values, that there is no us/them mentality, that I’m trying to live according to the values and priorities of Jesus as I read them in the Gospels, and that anybody can pick up the Gospels, read them, and try to follow Jesus. We had a very good and engaging conversation.

Aaron would not identify as a follower of Jesus. And yet, in the time that we’ve known them, both he and his wife, Susan, have reduced the amount that they swear, Aaron has drastically reduced the amount of beer he drinks (going from, on some days, a dozen beers per day to, on many days now, not even one), and they have shown tremendous hospitality towards us. If we look at them through the Conversation Quadrant, they are definitely on the bottom half, moving more deeply into serious, spiritual conversations. 

This is what it looks like to disciple people towards conversion, rather than try to convert first and disciple (hopefully) later. The work is slow, and moves at the pace of the one being discipled, but if we believe that God has led us to people, then who are we to dictate how quickly they must move? If God has prepared people as persons of peace, then we follow Jesus’ instructions to stay with those people, let them serve us, and be messengers of peace in their midst (see Luke 10 and Matthew 10).

​Disciple-making, and pastoral ministry, in secular culture is slow, difficult work. It tests our ability to simply love people, leaving our agendas at the door in favour of selfless love.

Are you frustrated with people's growth? Are you willing to lay down your agendas for another, in order to simply love them and serve where they are, and as they are?

As always, let me know how I can serve you in this.

Love First,

Jeremy

P.S. Sometimes you need someone to talk to, someone who has walked the same path ahead of you. I specialize in mentoring pastors who are facing transitions (whether from burnout, contemplating a job change, or looking for help with congregational issues). I’d love to talk to you and see how I can help you. Reach out to me through my contact page and let’s begin a conversation that will help you find clarity in your ministry.