As Christians, we’re called to love everyone. It’s certainly not easy—as family dynamics, church politics and presidential elections make clear—but with soulful intentionality it can be done. Kudos to you if you’re grooving on that wavelength!
Yes, we’re called to love everyone. But don’t worry if you don’t like everyone. Like and love are not the same thing. In fact, liking everyone, especially at church, is usually a bad sign. I’d go so far as to say that if you like everyone at your church, it’s an indication that your church may be in decline.
As I see it, if you like everyone at church, you probably have one of four situations going on.
A. You’re not paying attention.
B. You’ve recently been unexpectedly snatched from the jaws of death. All of life is joyous and nobody, I mean nobody, could rain on your parade.
C. You’re not telling the truth. You are caring and kind to people, but deep down inside certain people bother you. A lot.
D. Everyone at your church is just like you. With few exceptions, fellow church goers look, sound, think, believe, process, dress and talk in a way that is pleasing to you. What’s not to like?
If you chose A, wake up! Life is passing you by. The good and the bad. Widen your circle.
If you chose B, enjoy it while it lasts. This too shall pass, my friend.
If you chose C, breathe a sigh of relief. Being bothered by others is a good sign. It means that there is a certain amount of diversity at your church. Perhaps it’s generational, or theological or political or cultural. Or maybe it’s simply that they lead with the head and you lead with the heart. Or they like to jump into things and talk incessantly while you like to take your time and keep your own counsel. Diversity can be annoying in the short-term, but it’s vital for long-term sustainability. You need those differences, even if you don’t like them. Healthy DNA, robust ecosystems, and strong economies all depend upon diversity.
If you chose D, sit down; we need to talk. While this might seem incredibly positive, it’s not. Liking everyone brings a curious trouble. Too much harmony isn’t actually desirable. It means there is not enough diversity in your church. More specifically, it probably means there’s a lack of daring, risk-taking, adventurous, visionary, overly-emotional or off-the-wall people at your church. Instead–the qualities of stability, dependability, and predictability probably rule the day. The truth is, you need all of the above in your church. And you need to develop greater emotional intelligence to deal with them.
While liking-everyone-harmony keeps the annoyance factor at bay, it also means that you’re missing out on new ways of thinking, sensing, and understanding. In this day and age, when the world around is constantly changing, we need the ability to be nimble. Otherwise, we’ll never try new things. The healthiest churches have a variety of personalities and preferences. When guided by a strong Kingdom-oriented vision with lots of buy-in, different personalities and preferences working together can unleash tremendous momentum for good.
Jesus’ own circle of followers included people who didn’t like each other: the quiet and the headstrong; those who stepped out of the boat and those whose faith was smaller than a mustard seed; fishermen and scholars, tax collectors and the heavily-taxed, siblings in competition, Pharisees and Zealots. Because of the varied gifts they brought to the table, the movement survived. I imagine they grew to love each other in time, but I doubt they all liked each other.
Can you imagine if all Jesus’ disciples were clones of Peter? Or Martha? Or Mary? Or Bartholomew? Jesus knew the value of diversity, and practiced it. What about you?
Okay, let’s say you realize you need more diversity. You’re open to it. You get that your church can’t survive without it. You’re even ready to have people in church you don’t necessarily like. But you can’t seem to get there. You have invited people and they don’t come. You have extended a welcome but no one has taken you up on it. No worries.
Here are some ways to begin to connect with people you may not like. And to get comfortable with people who are different from you. It all starts with meeting people you might normally avoid. Here’s how:
1. When you’re out and about, observe who you avoid, judge, or steer clear of. These are the very people to go towards. Not because they need you necessarily, but because you need them. If you think “Tsk, tsk!” when seeing them, open your mouth and say hello.
2. Notice someone who has an outrageous hair style, an unexpected mode of transportation, an unusual job, an unfamiliar accent, a different skin color, or a surprising fashion sense. Make eye contact. Smile. Say hello. Strike up a conversation.
3. Visit a store you don’t normally shop in. Or dine in a restaurant you don’t normally eat in. While you’re there, speak to someone you wouldn’t normally talk to. Even if it’s just about the weather.
4. When you’re ready to go deeper, ask people what they love about their lives. Ask them where they find beauty in the world. Ask them if they would pray for you.
At first, you might not like any of these people. As you get to know them more, they might really rub you the wrong way. Perfect. It means they have something you need—a new way of looking at the world, a different style of communication, a distinctive way of processing information, or a unique way of understanding God.
Now that you’ve gone out of your way to meet new and different people, look for those same kind of stretch-your-boundaries-folks at church. See if you can identify people there that you wouldn’t normally talk to. People you suspect would upset you. Go out of your way to meet them and get to know them.
Finally, pay attention to your differences and see what you can learn from them. Discover the ways your personalities and preferences complement each other, instead of duplicate each other. You might just learn to love them. Even if you don’t like them. As you find ways to do Kingdom work together, you’ll discover the curious strength of partnering with people you may not even like.