When you go to a home, give it your blessing of peace. If the home is deserving, let your blessing remain with them. But if the home isn’t deserving, take back your blessing of peace. If someone won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave their home or town. And shake the dust from your feet at them. —Matthew 10:12-14
Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. —Luke 9:4-5
When you’re in seventh grade, building friendships is difficult. I remember the time my best friend from fourth grade, Gemma, decided to host a small slumber party. She invited only three girls: Angel, Mary, and myself. About two hours after Angel and I arrived, Gemma called Mary and asked her if she was still coming. Mary replied, “No, I don’t like Christina, so I don’t want to go anywhere she is.”
I was confused. Mary and I had been in the same school for four months. We did have any of the same classes and our parents didn’t know any of the same people. The only thing Mary and I had in common was that we had both recently been cut from the basketball team during tryouts. I thought to myself, “why doesn’t she like me? She doesn’t even know me. Everyone likes me.”
That wasn’t really true. I had always been a victim of bullies. They each picked different reasons to bully me: my petite size, my glasses, the eye patch I wore in early elementary school to “train” my bad eye to work, my being a Protestant attending an almost all Catholic school, my academic talents… the list was endless. People didn’t like me. In fact, they seemed to seek out reasons to not like me.
Yet I still stand by the intentions behind what twelve year old me thought to myself. “Why doesn’t she like me? I’ve not done anything to make anyone not like me.” Then and now, I go out of my way to help and support people. Being a pastor, I see the best in people. I see the promise of perfection in each individual. As an adult and a pastor, I still ask myself, “why doesn’t she or he like me? I have been caring, compassionate, and welcoming.”
Recently, I relived a very vivid experience with the kind of bullying common in many churches. Every Sunday I would welcome people at the door and ask about their family members, their health, the recent concert or ballgame their child participated in. Week after week I received the “grocery store answer.” The response you give the acquaintance you sometimes run into at the grocery store. The person you ‘know’ but for whatever reason don’t really know all that well but still wish to be polite to just the same.
“Oh, dad is home now, thanks for asking.”
I continually send out emails filled with reflections, prayers, congratulations and thank you’s to members of the congregation for the time and services to our Lord. All these carefully crafted and thoughtful emails were left unanswered, unless it was to lob yet another complaint.
Family, friends, coworkers all saw the bullying and identified it. Once the bullying behavior was identified, I knew what to do: Be the pastor I’m called to be by shepherding them and leading them to greener pastures.
I was torn between two lessons from divinity school. The first lesson taught me that tough situations are opportunities to learn and grow. Some churches never seem to recognize that they cycle through the same mistakes time and time again. As pastors, we are called to be prophetic. We are called to speak the truth with grace and to walk the congregation through this wilderness so that once and for all it can break this cycle.
But the second lesson was just as memorable, just as important. As I left a chapel service, someone handed me a paintbrush with these opening scriptures printed on the handle. Simply put, “if they won’t welcome you, leave them and shake the dust off your feet.”
I found the first lesson as part of my calling–walking with the congregation as I lead them to a better, healthier place. So I devoted more time to the congregation. I arrived earlier. I began offering more resources and taking more time to pray.
Of course, more time spent with the congregation meant less time with my family. Unless I brought them along. One weekend we spent eight hours prepping for an event. My two children organized materials, ran errands, and helped me cook. The next day, we arrived at church three hours early. The event went off amazingly well!
But not one volunteer complimented it or thanked us for the work. The next week we headed over on Saturday again to prepare things for Sunday’s big event. Still no thanks voiced or offers to help the next week. Finally, on the fourth consecutive Saturday in a row we had dedicated to preparing everything for Sunday, my typically selfless oldest child paused to ask,
“How long are we going to be at church THIS time?”
In that moment I realized I was sacrificing our family’s weekends to serve a people ungrateful but also unreceptive. I cannot please everyone. People do not have to have a reason to dislike me. Sometimes, for reasons that make no rational sense, people are not capable of appreciating the work that goes into the things I do. Some people simply cannot be pleased and cannot receive the shepherding I am called to provide. I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting their time, and worst of all, I’m wasting the few valuable moments I have with my children.
That is when I realized the second most memorable lesson from divinity school was the most important. I was not received and it was time to go. My best way for me to be their pastor is to open the door for someone they will receive. To hold onto that door and keep trying would be the worst failure of all. The realization freed me–healed me.
I am holding hands with my children as we skip freely away, the dust is flying off our feet, blessing the congregation all the way home.
Christina Ryan Perkins is a graduate of Campbell University Divinity School and a ministry mom living in Fort Wayne, Indiana and serving as the Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church, Huntington Indiana.