Reach the Ugly Woman in the Balcony
Joe McKeeverJoe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."
- 2011 Dec 22
Reach the Ugly Woman in the Balcony
My wife tells me not to use the term "ugly woman" and as you surely know, for a preacher to go against the advice of his wife is foolhardy. But since we were unable to find a better substitute, it remains. At least for the moment. This program allows me to return and tweak the article. Readers with better ideas should send them this way posthaste!
The story comes from a longtime friend, Lynn. Now, Lynn is a better Christian than almost anyone I know. She has had enough pains and heartaches for several lifetimes. Instead of making her hard and calloused, the trials have driven her closer to the Heavenly Father. Consequently, she is full of mercy and grace.
Her church has wisely made her a greeter for the congregation. That sweet spirit and smiling face draw people in. Every church should have such people out front to welcome worshipers.
Not long ago, prior to the service, Lynn spotted a woman in the balcony. I'm using Lynn's words when I say that she was ugly. The scowl on her face warned everyone to stand back about 500 feet. And that's why Lynn did what she did.
She sought her out. Climbed into the balcony and went straight to her, thrust out her hand and said, "Hello."
The woman may as well have uttered a "bah, humbug!" for she was a living personification of Scrooge himself. She said nothing and turned away.
Now, for most people, that would have done it. They would have written the woman off. But not Lynn. Not even close.
The next few Sundays, Lynn made it a point to seek the woman out. Each time, she received the same rebuke.
Lynn told her husband, "I'm going to get through to that woman." He said, "If anyone can, it's you."
The next Sunday, Lynn found her in the balcony and reached out to shake her hand. "My name is Lynn. What's your name?"
"Why do you want to know?" the woman asked.
"Because we are the Lord's children and we ought to know one another."
If she gave a name, I don't recall.
However, that morning, as everyone was leaving church, Lynn felt a hand grabbing her arm from behind. She turned and saw her, the unattractive hostile lady from the balcony.
"Do you have a moment?" she asked. And then, "I need prayer."
"I'll be happy to pray for you," Lynn said. "What shall I pray?"
The woman said, "I'm just so lonely. It's my husband."
Lynn said, "Did he die?"
"Yes. Three years ago. And I know I should be over it by now, but I'm not."
"Oh no," Lynn said. "When you've had a wonderful marriage for many years, you don't recover from the loss of your husband quickly."
They talked, Lynn prayed, and now they are friends.
That's the process. It's almost miraculous how it happens. A believer with a tender heart and sensitive spirit sees one who is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and reaches out until she decides to let down the drawbridge and admit her.
There are at least four groups of church leaders who should be on the alert every Sunday for certain people who need them and their particular ministry.
Deacons need to be watchful for troubled members and trouble-making people.
People like Lynn--I call them compassionate healers--need to watch for worshipers whose burdens have made them angry, unattractive, unfriendly, and unwelcoming to human contact.
Trained witnesses and soulwinners need to be on the alert for seekers in the congregation, people drawn by their need for a Savior.
And last, there is a certain small group of leaders whom I'm calling "Ministers of Connections" who will want to be watching for gifted members whose talents and abilities are not in the service of the Lord.
Back to (ahem) the ugly woman in the balcony.
I apologize in advance for the way I'm about to characterize this lady. Once her circumstances changed, everything about her countenance reversed. But here's the tale....
I said to our church staff on a Monday morning, "Did you see that new family in the balcony?" A dad, mom, and three children, the older two being teens. I said, "That has to be the ugliest woman I have ever seen."
Whatever their response has long since been forgotten.
The family kept coming to church and we learned their names. They joined the church and the kids got active in our programs. Then one day a phone call came from the school.
The teenager daughter has reported to a schoolteacher that her father was molesting her. After calling the authorities, the teacher called our youth minister. We all went into action.
The daughter was placed in state protection, the father was arrested, and the church flocked around the wife and other children. In time, the father went to prison and the wife divorced him. She went back to school and became a professional in the field she had long loved. And one more thing.
She became beautiful.
I had never seen anything like it. I knew the Bible talks about how the Lord helps our countenance, and common sense says that the burdens of life can weight us down and rob us of a thousand things, including our smile, our glow, our peace, but still--to see it demonstrated was stunning.
Most people read the ugly countenance wrongly.
Thinking that scowl is saying, "Stay back! I do not like you," they avoid this individual.
Sometimes when such heavily burdened people make it to church church, they return angry because "no one spoke to me." But we wish they knew there is a good reason for that: They told them not to. Their "no" face warned people away.
The "Lynns" in the Kingdom of God--the compassionate healers--read those faces differently from the rest of us. They see the same thing we do, but since they are better at interpreting facial messages, they read the hostile ugliness as, "I'm hurting. Come find me."
Do I have to tell you the Lynns in any congregation are extremely rare? They are hammered out in the crucible of life, they have been battered and beaten, they have suffered more than most. Finding their strength in the Lord, they emerge with a Christlikeness and a compassion the rest of us can only wonder at.
Pastors know to treasure such persons in their membership, but usually do not know what to do with them. Answer: Make them roaming seekers of the hurting. Send them forth into the sanctuary to be themselves and do what the Holy Spirit in them wishes to do.
How to recognize the burdened and hurting hostiles who need us.
Consider the following aspects to reaching these needy souls.
1) They are angry. So, listen for the ugly tone of voice, for the snapping responses to attempts to befriend them, for the kind of attitude that would cause a mother to send a child into time-out.
Don't be put off by it. Hurting people are often grumpy. If you doubt that, visit a hospital room and listen. The pain in their voice betrays the pain in their bodies.
2) You must not retaliate. Something inside us wants to "give as good as we got." Stifle it. All a curt response does is drive the hurting hostile away. It confirms them in their isolation. They return home confident that staying home would have been the best choice.
Those whose mind is set on the flesh cannot pull this off.
3) A soft answer turns away wrath. Some (ahem) wise person said that once, and it wasn't Ben Franklin. So, try it. No matter the harsh words you heard, respond with, "I hope you have a wonderful day."
4) Pray for them. Pray for them every time you think of them.
5) Be consistent. Smile and greet them warmly. Whether they respond or not, do your job. Stay on focus.
6) Expect the same response Lynn got. Eventually, they will decide to trust you and will open the door a crack. They will ask you to pray for them or ask for a word of counsel or a visit.
That's a big deal to them. So don't blow it, friend. Do not make a promise--I'll try to get by as soon as I can--and then fail to keep it. If so, you will lose them forever.
7) In time, help them to become compassionate healers themselves, to seek out wounded worshipers like themselves.
They're in every church, friend. Watch for them. And remember: when that moment arrives to greet them, it's too late to stop and pray. So stay close to the Lord, let his Spirit empower you and sweeten you and steady you, and when the moment comes, you will be ready.