One of the most significant implications from Hebrews 13:17 (giving account for souls) I was grateful to learn early in ministry was that I don’t have the right to dislike and refuse to care for someone’s soul that God had entrusted to me. This is important to realize as pastors because we all have those who despise us in our congregations; those we have upset by something we said or did; that we will still give an account for when we stand before God.

As you read this, some of you may be thinking these kinds of people are a good reason to leave and start over, but they are actually a good reason to stay and endure. Why are these difficult people a good reason to stay and endure?

A former foe

I was reminded of this while reflecting on a hospital visit I made several years ago to see an elderly lady who almost died, but was beginning to make a slow recovery.  Years ago, she publicly attacked and slandered me in front of the whole church. Not my biggest fan. Although the tensions had calmed down the last few years, I didn’t expect a great deal of warmth from her.

I sat with this woman and had the most encouraging and pleasant visit with her. She was warm, kind, and gracious to me. She praised me for caring for her and the church so well over the years. Just as I started to intently look for the “candid camera” that had been planted, she reached to hug me as I left. When she died a few years later I preached her funeral.

The joy of endurance

Unable to humanly explain anything I had experienced that day, God reminded me of one of the greatest joys of staying and enduring with these people. As we endure the criticism, complaints, and verbal attacks, and try to love and care for the souls of those who attack us, God in his grace might allow us to eventually win them over.

What a powerful testimony of the power of God at work in his shepherd and sheep when he does this. It is not the first time God has allowed me to experience this, and I can definitely say it ranks as one of the great joys I now experience in pastoral ministry with my congregation.

Pastors, hold fast to what you know to be true and right. Love those who love you as you love those who don’t–at least right now. However, don’t be surprised when you wake up one day (years from now) and find that a church member who has been cold to you for years suddenly has warmed up.

I leave you with these stunningly wise words from Richard Baxter on why we should especially care for the souls of those who despise us:

“Even the stoutest sinners will hear us on their death bed, though they scorned us before.”