This past Sunday, standing in the parking lot at church, I noticed one of our members – a recent widow, walk to her car alone. It occurred to me in that moment how Sunday afternoons may be times of great loneliness for her. There are conversations about the service, sermon and weather that she used to have with her beloved husband that she is unable to enjoy anymore. I felt a deep sense of compassion for her.
Almost instantly I felt another emotion – regret. Unexpectedly it was as if the Holy Spirit began to remind me of frustrating conversations from years ago when I served as a pastor at some older, more traditional churches. I remember thinking – very critically, how selfish some older church member were for holding so tightly to their evening church service times, or potluck dinners. In many cases these traditions had nothing to do with the mission of the church, but were social gatherings they enjoyed for themselves. Privately, I was very critical of how selfish it was for them to insist on continuing traditions just because they enjoyed them for their own benefit.
However, it occurred to me this past Sunday that I never really tried to understand why they wanted to hold on to the social benefits of their traditions. What if I was an older widower and through the passage of time had lost a great deal of my best friends to death? How selfish would it seem then to want to spend time with my friends – to avoid the loneliness I might be experiencing? Maybe not so much.
It occurred to me that the more time I spend trying to understand people and their circumstances the less critical I am.
While leadership still requires tough decisions to help the church or organization you lead move forward according to its purpose and mission, it would be of great Christian value to take a moment and try to understand the people we disagree with. We may not be nearly as presumptuous or critical if we do. Greater understanding leads to compassion and empathy, not dismissive arrogance. Hopefully, I will prove to be wiser in the future. Hopefully, you can learn from my failures.