Love the Porcupines…Quills and All

the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But 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 12:22-25

porcupine-quillsI’ve learned to be careful in my application of Paul’s “body parts” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Once you start assigning body-part descriptions to individuals in your church, the discussion can all go south pretty quickly. The truth is, most of us would rather not know what body part many in our church would use to describe us!

I am thinking today about the “difficult” people in the church, the “porcupines” (painful to love), the ones Rick Warren describes so eloquently as the EGR people (Extra Grace Required). Paul would describe them as “seeming to be weaker” or ones “we think less honorable” or “unpresentable parts”. These are the people we generally would prefer not to be around, the ones we wish would try visiting another small group rather than ours (except that we would not wish that on any of the other leaders). These are the extremely high-maintenance folks with negative outlooks on everything and everyone. They are “projects”, needing lots and lots of attention. They are exhausting.

As I consider this category of fellow believers, my first thought is to question whether or not I am perceived as one. I think it is worth our while as leaders to examine the evidence of how influential we really are and, if not so much, why not? Is there something about me or my leadership or my relationships that may risk making me “less presentable” in the eyes of my church? Am I that leader who people see coming down the hallway and avert their eyes or even turn away? Hey, I’m just asking the question. Be honest with yourself.

But what if you and I are not the porcupines? What if we have searched the evidence objectively and we have determined that we are at least not trouble-makers in the church? That still leaves the question of how best to love those who are. If you are like me, your knee-jerk reaction is to simply avoid them. Maybe that is the most efficient way to deal with them. Maybe we should just “consider the source” and move on, ignoring the porcupine.  And that would be OK, unless of course your call to leadership INCLUDES giving leadership to that painful person.  Then, ignoring him/her, though perhaps the easier option, suddenly does not feel so right.

The more difficult course is learning to lean in and to recognize Christ in that person, i.e., learning to hear and see the good in him/her, even when he/she is being difficult.  The more difficult course is learning to take a deep breath and temporarily put up with the painful quills of an angry person in order to try to see beyond his/her anger to the root cause, the thing causing the pain in the first place.  The more difficult option is to love that person–even though it is painful to do so–to figure out what he/she needs and to move to meet those needs. That is what Godly leaders do.

Our next question, of course, is all about appropriate boundaries around that painful relationship. How long must I love this person and to what extent? Aren’t there some reasonable limits? I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know this…neither you nor I get to be the ones to answer it. Those limits, I’m afraid, are only for God to answer; the very same God whose love for you and for me has no limits. Yikes. And ouch!

If God has placed a calling on my life to be a leader in the church, then I must face one reality right up front: I will get hurt by people, especially when they themselves are hurting.  Welcome to ministry.  But a call to lead them is a call to love the porcupines…quills and all.

That’s a tall order!  Awfully difficult!  But hey, if leadership were easy, everybody would be doing it, right?

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