How to lead people who may not always like you

As pastors, sometimes it’s hard to imagine there are people in the church who don’t like us. Maybe it’s a small minority, even just one or two people. But it’s true—sometimes people won’t like you. Maybe it’s because of decisions you’ve made. Maybe it’s your priorities or personality. Maybe it’s your preaching or even your clothing.

No matter the reason, this can be a hard thing for pastors to accept. Even if you’re not bothered by the opinions of others, it can be difficult to lead those who may be upset with you. So how do you lead people who seem like they don’t like you? Three simple, perhaps unsurprising ways:

1. Be glad they love Jesus.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus. Therefore, if these individuals truly love Jesus, this is something to celebrate. Even if they’re upset over trivial or secondary things, we can be glad they have the main thing—and that’s Jesus. Perhaps this isn’t true of all, but for those who love Jesus and just disagree with you, you still have more in common with them than anyone else in the world. You have experienced the same grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is something to be glad about.

2. Empathize with them.

Depending on why they’re upset, this may be difficult. But it’s at least possible to genuinely empathize with people you feel are in the wrong. If someone is upset (even over secondary things like music style or how long you preach), we can genuinely try and understand why they’re upset. At a minimum, trying to understand where they’re coming from may help limit your frustration. Of course, there may be exceptions to this rule.

3. Love and serve no matter what.

I tell my church family often that one of the most important times to gather with God’s people is when we don’t feel like gathering with God’s people. The same is true for us as pastors. One of the most important times to love and serve God’s people is when we don’t feel like loving and serving God’s people. And this includes the people who may not be very happy with you.

This may all seem simple. It is. It’s simple to understand, but at times very difficult to implement. Too often, however, our immediate response to criticism is, “Well, I don’t care what people think.” I’m all for caring more about what God thinks than what people think, but let’s not forget: we’re to care for the people in our flock. This means we should care what they think, at least to an extent.

A book that has helped me greatly with leading when people don’t like me is When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. If you are deeply bothered by opinions others may have of you, I encourage you to read this book. It will challenge you in making sure your fear of God always trumps your fear of man.

We should be glad they love Jesus (assuming they do). We should empathize when they disagree or are upset. We should love and serve no matter what. After all, Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners. We can do the same for God’s people.

Lead Pastor
Ryan Gilbert
Lamar Baptist Church, Arlington
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