When Jan and I were getting ready to go out and plant our first church our pastor, Roy Hicks Jr., called us into his office for an appointment to solidify some final details before we were deployed. In that conversation Roy asked us if we were ready to pastor and understood what it meant and we ignorantly and innocently responded, "Yes!" Roy smiled and the conversation moved on.
In those precious minutes with Roy he said something else that has followed us for the last several decades as we have ministered in the United States and overseas. Roy said, "When you go to plant the church go there and be a lover of the people and a student of their history." Those words had a great impact on us then and now.
When Roy told us to go as lovers of the people and historians of their culture we were given the gift of freedom. Roy did not send us away with a results-oriented assignment. He sent us away with a wisdom that has followed church planters for the last 2,000 years. We honestly did not have any idea on how to plant a church, but the "lover and historian" thing made sense to us - we could do that!
When we didn't know what to do in a given season of ministry loving people was a great default. When we couldn't figure out why people responded in a negative way to our acts of love a study of their personal history helped us see them in a different light - a merciful light.
When we love people just where they are, and when we know their personal history, a couple of things are deposited into the mix. Loving people always brings a blessing, not only to the one being loved, but also for the one who gives the love. Your love may be rejected, but when you choose to love you are tapping into the very heart of God and that heart will sustain you even when your best attempts to love and lead others seems to be failing.
When we study the history of any group of people we begin to see their lives from the viewpoint of God's mercy. History helps us understand that the painful and hurtful things people do to us are not personal and we should not take them personally. The negative responses to our acts of love are how people have made their painful history work for them. We simply got in the way of their reaction and took a hit. It isn't personal. In each new season of life and ministry take a moment and commit yourself to be a lover and a historian of those you are called to lead. The acts of love you release, and the knowledge of the history you gain, will become a buffer between you and the strident seasons that ministry will inevitably bring your way. Loving people amidst their broken history is a powerful testimony of God's love.