If you’ve never heard the following story, I’m shocked. It’s been floating around for ages, and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been long retired. But just in case there’s someone out there who’s been left unscathed, allow me to scathe you.
One Sunday morning, a mother went in to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, “I’m not going.” “Why not?” she asked. “I’ll give you two good reasons,” he said. “One, they don’t like me, and two, I don’t like them.” His mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why you SHOULD go to church: One, you’re 59 years old, and two you’re the pastor!”
You may have also heard this told with the insertion of a high school principal instead of a pastor (as well as almost any other vocation that deals with people). It’s certainly made the rounds over the years in various forms.
I love his excuse (which is almost forgotten when the punch line emerges), “They don’t like me and I don’t like them.” For me (as a pastor of thirty-five plus years), it begs a question. Do the folks in the church gathering need to like me? Do I need to like them?
I’ll be the first to admit. Through the years, I’ve served some parishioners that I didn’t like at all (none of which are in my current appointment, of course). In addition, I know full well there were some who didn’t like me—which is probably an understatement. So, how healthy is that?
The upside of this is the fact that we hung in there with each other despite our personal feelings. There’s no Scriptural law that says we have to like one another. Love one another, yes. Like one another, optional… It’s a testament to the completed work of Christ that we can work with each other for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Differences aside, we are still Brothers and Sisters in Christ and can preserve enough unity to be about our Father’s business together.
I’ll even go a step further. Some of the people I disliked the most were people for whom I had the most respect. I loved them for their attributes and strengths. I just didn’t like them very much.
Personalities are like snowflakes. Just ask Meyers and Briggs (I know, I know. They’re dead, but just go with the flow here.). Some of our personality traits are going to clash from time to time (maybe always). The Apostle Paul didn’t say, “Preserve the unity with everyone except the Type A individuals.” If he did, that pronouncement didn’t make the final cut for canon inclusion.
The Psalmist said, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity.” That unity comes with a price. St. Peter said we are like “living stones being built into a spiritual house.” Try building a stone house without chipping off a few rough edges sometime.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]