I’ve had one in every church.
You know who I’m talking about: the least lovely saints. You’re glad that they’re part of the body of Christ, but you wish that they had chosen a church other than yours.
It sounds so ugly to admit this. I want to be someone who appreciates everyone. I love the diversity of personalities and all the quirks that set us apart. But I need to be honest: it’s not always easy to love everyone.
I think of the cranks: the person at my first church who got upset because I bought coated paperclips instead of uncoated ones, needlessly wasting the church’s money; the person who’d mastered the skill of giving backhanded compliments; the man who always showed up at every congregational meeting with an axe to grind. A healthy church culture doesn’t give cranks much of a platform, but we’re still left with the challenge of learning to love them, understanding that love includes sometimes confronting them too.
But there are others too: high maintenance saints who crave attention, well-meaning saints who miss social cues, and those who never miss a chance to speak too long when the floor is opened for anyone to speak. Sometimes this category is harder. It’s understandable to get frustrated with cranky people sometimes, but we’re supposed to love those who mean well but lack a few social graces.
Gordon MacDonald used to call these people EGRs: Extra Grace Required. Someone probably comes to your mind when you hear that term.
Back when Jim Collins talked about getting the right people on the bus, my mind immediately thought of these saints and how I could get them on a different bus. Again, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true. How much better the church would be with people I like, I thought, people who are both gifted and pleasant. I wouldn’t have to cringe when a newcomer came to the church and had to deal with one of the least impressive saints in the church.
I used to think that people like this were design flaws. Now I believe that every church needs them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about these kinds of people. “The very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together — the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ,” he wrote. “When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.”
Bonhoeffer writes of the importance of giving thanks for the Christian fellowship in which we’ve been placed, “even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty.”
“What may appear weak and trifling to us may appear great and glorious to God … The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
I still find some brothers and sisters harder to love than others. But I’m increasingly realizing how I’m also hard to love, and how “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).
I’m slowly learning to love the people I used to consider the least lovely saints. Maybe they’re not so unlovely. Maybe they’re not a distraction from what God is doing but the very core of what God is doing: building a glorious church out of people like us, rescued and transformed by his lavish grace.