How Do I Live Missionally If I Don't Like People?
Loving people is hard. Loving people you're tethered to is even worse. Read these four tips on how to make it work.
I mean, come on, have you really been around people lately? They talk too much; they get excited about stuff they never follow through on; they talk smack about other people without trying to look like they’re talking smack; they are narcissistic so they subtly manipulate conversations back to themselves; they spend their money on dumb stuff then grumble about having no money; they raise their kids in wacky ways; they vote for the wrong politicians; they try to talk intelligently about things they’ve barely studied; they are poor listeners; they are undisciplined with their time and then they complain they have no time; they are all about “doing justice,” but then can’t unplug from their computer to actually do it; they are too conservative; they are way too liberal; they are easily offended and then avoid conflict by avoiding you. Seriously, I could go on for days, but I probably shouldn’t.
People are hard to like, and if you’re honest we all have bouts where we don’t like people much at all.
This is a daily and weekly reality of forming a missional community, but very few like to be honest about it. It’s hard to like each other. Often in Christian cultures we attempt to pretend, smile and pose about our relationships, which ends up creating some form of twisted Christian-love. Posing eventually causes us to unconsciously distance from certain people and subsequently dilute the quality of our community. Learning to love people we wouldn’t naturally like is an essential point of discipleship in creating an emotionally mature community with missional traction.
I happen to believe this was a constant grind in the forming of the early church in the First and Second Century. When you read many of the Pastoral Epistles, you see that there are more than doctrinal issues at play. When people who previously had very little in common (Jew and Gentile, slave and free) are now forging a common mission and community, there will be emotional/personal dynamics that threaten the ongoing life, unity and movement of the Kingdom.
This challenge causes Paul to plead in Ephesians 4: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with each other in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit with a bond of peace.”
The participants in an emerging Kingdom-Community must go through the dynamic pressure of loving and liking one another. If they don’t, they slowly become irrelevant.
Addressing this community chemistry is mission imperative.
Here are a few elementary spiritual minimums to be applied and remembered when we don’t like people:
1. There’s no option of a community with people just like you. The sad separating of the church into “like” groups and programs doesn’t create New Testament community. When we parcel out into moms with toddlers, hipsters with tattoos, men who like to hunt or middle-age types with good jobs, we don’t look like the “People of God.” We’re only mimicking our consumeristic/indivualistic counter parts. It takes intentional effort to form a quality of life together.
2. Holiness doesn’t magically happen in an incubator. Evangelical Christianity has sold us a false formula for holiness and transformation, prescribing: private Bible reading, worship music or taking in good preaching. The catalyst for genuine heart transformation happens as you work through the “fleshiness” that arises from the rub of being tethered to others. Our real selves are given the privilege to percolate to the surface so the grace of God can do its surgical work on our character.
3. Jesus bears with you. Remember you are slow to conviction, slow to action, slow to selfless love, slow to pray, slow to compassion and quick to judge. Jesus Christ has a lot of patience with you and I. His kindness, graciousness and faithfulness to us while we hold on white-knuckled to our own buffoonery is part of the glimmering beauty of the Gospel. I should learn to love and like others because Jesus loves and likes me and I can be very unlovable and unlikable.
4. Choose to incarnate. Instead of hiding, avoiding or moaning about people who grate you in your community choose the movement of love. The Gospels are full of accounts where God, in Jesus, enters into the emotional space of others — Matthew, Nathaniel, a prostitute, Nicodemus, a blind man and a Samaritan woman.
Incarnation is a cute, hip word, but when practiced it requires us to pick up our cross. Jesus said, “Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master” (Matt. 10:24). You and I will probably never die literally on a cross, but we will have to die in other ways when we incarnate with actual people. Incarnation costs time, patience, forgiveness and emotional energy. Incarnation calls us to disrupt the lazy gravitation towards only relating with people we like and filtering out those we don’t.