Let’s take another look at Mark 8:31-33 (NIV):
[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When Jesus rebuked Peter, I doubt Peter thought, Well, I’m taking my ball and going home! Jesus doesn’t care about me! He’s just on a power trip! While Peter may have been hurt, I believe there was no question in his mind that Jesus loved him. After all, Scripture is full of examples of Jesus being compassionate. In fact, just before this exchange, Jesus had fed the 4,000. He had turned to His disciples and said, “I have compassion on these people” (Mark 8:2 NIV). So they knew Jesus was compassionate. They had seen it, and they knew He cared not only for the masses, but also for them as individuals.
We must follow Jesus’ example of candor with compassion—not just in words, but also in actions. At a conference in Texas last year, I began talking with a woman about her involvement in her church. She said the leadership often asked her to do things, and she always said “yes.” But soon she discovered that resentment was building up in her heart because she felt as though she were only valued for what she could give. In essence, what she was saying was, “I don’t think they care about me. I think they only care about the church.” That’s worth writing down.
Do people think we care about them or just the church? Let’s be honest. Many of us are visionaries and “type A” people, and as a result, there are times we care more about the mission and vision of our ministries than individual people. But we need to recognize that’s not a good thing. While we do need to care about the big picture of the church, I don’t think it’s an “either/or”; I think it’s a “both/and.” Jesus cared about His mission on earth, but He also said, “I’m going to leave behind the 99 to find the one” (Matt. 18:12, paraphrased).
John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So, how do we let people know we care about them?
(1) Be present. People need to see us. This is more difficult for those of us with larger churches. But once at a church conference, I heard Dave Gibbons say, “When you walk through the foyer of your church, walk slowly.” That really spoke to me because when you walk more slowly, you will automatically notice people. You will see in their eyes which of them are struggling, and you will suddenly care as much about individuals as you do about the worship service. And they will notice that care because you will express it.
At the same time, it is important to remember we can’t meet everyone’s needs. One of the strengths of small churches is that it’s easier for us to know everybody and to be in relationship with them. As a church gets bigger, it’s harder. And since we only have so much relational energy, we need to exercise boundaries. Jesus did. When He went up on the Mount of Transfiguration, he only took three disciples. On perhaps the busiest day of His ministry, He dismissed the crowds before everybody was healed and said, “You guys are tired and weary. Get on the boat. We’re going to go get some rest.” So, sometimes we do have to say, “I can’t meet with you. I’m sorry. Maybe next week, but not this one.” Boundaries like this protect you and the church. But it is a balancing act. People still need to know you’re present.
So…do you respond to emails? Do you follow up on phone calls? And when you’re with people, do you let them know you’re truly present with them? This is important. When you’re talking with someone, look that person in the eye. Don’t start looking around the room for the person you need to catch before they leave. And if you are talking to a high-maintenance person who starts monopolizing your time, simply say, “I love you, brother, but I’ve got to talk to this person over here. I’ll try to catch you later.”
(2) Express gratitude. Simple words like, Thank you; You’re doing great; Can’t do this without you; I love you,” mean a lot. Do you know how many people in our churches want not only to hear these things, but also to believe we really mean them? And how often do we say them?
(3) Love actively. In 1 John 3:18, we are told not just to love in words and speech, but in deeds and truth. There are things we can do to show our appreciation. For example, host a party. If the volunteers in your children’s ministry are doing an extraordinary job, invite them over to your house on a Friday night. In other words, learn to work with groups as well as individuals. If you invite all the children’s volunteers to your house, you’re going to be able to spend face-to-face time with ten people, and they’re going to feel validated and appreciated, just as if you had had ten individual conversations. In addition, recognize staff members on their birthdays and anniversaries. Show an interest in their personal lives. Don’t just ask how their ministries are going. Ask them how they are doing—how they are really doing.
Jesus invested in His disciples so that they would carry His message to the world, but He also cared about them—personally. He exercised candor with compassion. That’s why when Jesus rebuked Peter, Peter didn’t get angry and leave. Peter knew unequivocally that Jesus didn’t just care about the mission, but also cared about him. And we are to follow Christ’s lead.
Recently, I was reading through an excerpt from a classic business book by Robert Greenleaf called Servant Leadership. The book is built around Jesus as an example of how leaders should lead out of a place of servanthood, not out of a place of power or authority. And if multi-billion dollar corporations are asking themselves how they can better serve their people, how much more should we in the church be asking that question?
Are we truly caring for people? And do we care for them enough to speak the truth and to do it in love? It’s my hope and prayer that we are.