As for the hurting and disappointed, before you criticize your leaders ask yourselves these questions:
1. Did I ever ask for help? Pastors and elders are not omniscient. Even with the best shepherding strategies people will fall through the cracks. So if you really need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I know everyone wants to be noticed. But it’s hard for a dozen guys to notice five hundred or two dozen to notice two thousand. Help your leaders help you.
2. Have I overlooked opportunities to fit in and get to know people? Before you complain that you’ve been at the church six months and still don’t know anyone, think about ways you could get known in the next six months. Is there a small group you could join? Could you attend the smaller, more informal evening service? What about volunteering for the nursery next time the sign up sheet goes around? Have you tried the potlucks and picnics and prayer meetings? Giving love and being loved is 90% just showing up.
3. Is it realistic for the leaders to give to every person in this church the kind of care I expect? It’s easy to think “All I wanted was one visit. You can’t tell me they were too busy to set aside one night for my family.” But remember you aren’t the only person at the church. If the general level of care you expect from your leaders cannot be multiplied by the number of people in the church, then you may be hoping for too much. If you expect everything, you’ll always be disappointed.
4. If I really wanted to be loved and noticed why did I stop showing up? On the one hand, church leaders should know when their members have drifted away. Good shepherds keep an eye on their sheep. But on the other hand, if sheep want to be cared for by the flock, they shouldn’t stay from it. People get hurt when their church absence isn’t noticed. But I have a hard time feeling too much sympathy, unless you’re dealing with a shut-in or someone whose absence is not voluntary. Don’t run away if you want to be found.
5. Am I willing to consider that I may be at fault more than I realize? If it feels like your leaders can never do anything right, maybe you’re the one making life miserable–for them and for you.
6. Is it possible I’ve overlooked ways the body has cared for me because I was hoping a different part of the body would care for me? Sometimes church members will say, “Sure, my small group sent me cards but the pastor never called.” Or, “Yes the pastors were very friendly to greet me after church, but no one my age ever said hello.” Or, “I know the elders care for me, but that’s their job.” Or conversely, “True, my friends prayed for me, but I never heard from my elder.” Before you get angry, remember the goal is for the body to care for the body, not for the shoulder to always get a special backrub from its favorite hand.
7. In general have I found this church and these leaders to be unloving and unsupportive? If the answer is yes, and Question 5 is dealt with too, then you may need a different church. But if the answer is no, consider giving your church and your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just botched this one. We all get it wrong sometimes. I know I have. Maybe they were too busy and dropped the ball. Or maybe you don’t know the whole story. In any event, don’t let one misstep color your whole impression of their ministry.
For both sheep and shepherds the indispensable requirements for living together are love and humility. Love to treat others as we want to be treated. Humility to consider how we may be at fault. Disappointment in the church is bound to happen. But it doesn’t have to destroy the unity of the body. The Lord can use our hurts to make all of us slower to speak and quicker to listen.