How To Handle Irritating Church People

Some people just can’t handle it.

An irritating person is in their Bible Study. A socially awkward man likes to speak up at all of the church meetings and eyes roll all over the room. A mentally disabled person makes weird noises at weird times and that is all people can think about as the sermon is being delivered.

My father in law, who is a pastor, says that because the church is supposed to be light, the light will attract bugs, in the form of strange, kooky, and difficult people. And he can tell you many stories of these bugs he has had in his churches.

I once heard a pastor speak with pride about asking a notoriously difficult and church hopping couple that they were not welcome at his church. He didn’t want their drama and peculiarities junking up his congregation.


It can be too easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback with some of these situations but I was struck recently by a phrase found in David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship.  Augsburger says that Christian community is, “a web of stubbornly loyal relationships knotted together into a living network of persons.” I love that phrase “stubbornly loyal.” When was the last time we were stubbornly loyal to anything much less our church?

Augsburger expands on the stubbornly loyal idea and describes what this might look like in a church setting.

Recognizing that community is a place where both good friends and predictable frustrators are present, needed, valued, respected, incorporated, and indeed learned from in genuine dialogue, stubbornly inclusive participants do not give up on the irritating or withdraw into the conforming, but rather welcome both.

Augsburger thinks that we should welcome the irritating and even learn from them. Jesus’ disciples were always trying to shield Jesus from the irritating people around them but Jesus seemed to seek them out. He asked that the children come to him instead of pushing them to the margins. When random people touched him in a huge crowd, Jesus sought out some of those people much to the annoyance of the disciples.

What does it say about us when our instant intolerance overwhelms our willingness to welcome and include? What might God be asking us to learn from this situation? Do we think we are so good that we can’t humble ourselves to be a little uncomfortable?

Christ has been stubbornly loyal to his church, despite all of its division, brokenness, corruptions, and scandal. Maybe it is time for us to practice a little stubborn loyalty ourselves.



What I Deserve

In a type of closing ceremony, on the final day of the final gathering of the Apprentice Experience in Sierra Madre, California, each of the participants got to say a few words about their experience in the program and then received a certificate. Here is what I said:

I don’t deserve the gift that AE has brought me. I don’t deserve the strong spiritual friendships that I received through our small groups and connections that I have made. I don’t deserve the chance to wrestle with such important issues and ideas that were taught by such strong teachers. But, God isn’t interested in what we deserve, he is interested in what He can provide. Thank God for his abundant and generous provision.


What I Take Away From A Life-Changing Experience

Random observations from 18 months of the Apprentice Experience:

  • I have become a fan of Wichita, Kansas. I have the shirt to prove it. Not a bad smaller big city.
  • I have always liked Scot McKnight. His blog is one of the best things on the internet. Getting to hear him speak on theology, Christology, and soteriology sounds really dry when I write it but he always makes these topics accessible. The best part, though, was finding a library with a TV in a Catholic retreat center so that Scot and the rest of us could watch his beloved Cubs in the World Series.
  • My small group, made up of five individuals – a California pastor, a Kansas youth pastor, a California matriarch, and a Kansas graduate student – has been consistently one of the highlights of our gatherings. We have bonded over meals, over texts, and in our scheduled time together. They are loving, interesting, and authentic people.
  • Just about everyone in our Community would be someone who I could sit down with right now and have a conversation that weaves elements of Spiritual Formation and discipleship without any hesitation. I have lived most of my Christian life having to pick and choose the ways I talk about these things because people look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. It is nice to find my tribe.

  • My biggest takeaways have involved intense personal conviction. One gathering included me coming to grips with my overly critical nature. One forced me to evaluate what it means to forgive and how to do it. I became more vulnerable by intentionally seeking out social opportunities with my fellow AErs instead of slinking to my own personal space.
  • There is always a two-hour stretch sometime during the Gathering weeks that we spend in complete silence. I spent one of these times walking through the Stations of the Cross. I would just sit on a bench in front of each station and take in the station. When I got to the station where Jesus is taken down from the cross I couldn’t see the image on the stone because the sun was shining so brightly in my eyes. The exact angle that I was sitting mixed with the timing of the day made it to where even the darkness of Christ’s temporary death was not visible.
  • All of our readings have influenced the blog. My posts on lament, the times I tried to tell my story, my discussion of vulnerability, and others have been directly inspired by something I read from our assigned readings. I so enjoyed the excuse to reread Dallas Willard‘s classics The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart.
  • This final gathering will be a little different as we will be in Southern California at a retreat center in Sierra Madre. This will be an interesting change of scenery from Kansas. Our guest teacher will be Shane Claiborne and the overall theme will be community. I so need this time away in rest, contemplation, and community.
  • I want to say a special thank you to many of you who have contributed to my fund-raising efforts to make this all possible. Some of you contributed graciously and generously. You may not realize it but your contribution paved the way for the learning and transformation that has shaped the best parts of this blog and the best parts of my efforts at doing kingdom work in my job and in my church. Your contribution has not gone to waste, I can assure you.