Cultivating a Tender Heart

Cultivating a Tender Heart

How group leaders can overcome a cynical attitude

Note: Dennis McCallum is Lead Pastor of Xenos Christian Fellowship and will be speaking at the upcoming Xenos Summer Institute. Click here for more information.

Over the years I have frequently struggled with cynicism. It's a very confusing area, because people are often motivated by selfish concerns. A cynical perspective just seems so right so much of the time. Standing up and baring our souls once again to others after repeated experiences of betrayal and disappointment just seems foolish!

How do we overcome our toughened heart toward others, while at the same time remaining tough enough to withstand the rough-and-tumble world of ministry?

In seeking an answer to this question, I have often contemplated John 2:24-25: "But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." Jesus knew better than to entrust himself to humans—he was cynical, too! Not really. He certainly was tough. He was tough enough to wade into virulent conflict. He was tough enough to face the cross.

But Jesus shows a remarkably tender heart toward people. Watch him weeping over Jerusalem. Hear his affectionate words at the last supper. For some reason, Jesus' insight about the people's selfishness didn't lead to any need to distance himself from tender feelings toward them. Jesus may have distrusted humans, in the sense that he knew how self-serving we are, but he never became cynical.

This paradoxical difference between Jesus and my tendency toward cynicism takes us deeply into the mysteries of a truly sacrificial outlook. Sacrificial people get messed over by their friends just like others do. But they aren't afraid of it. They have willingly chosen the path of self-sacrifice; they have already counted the cost of vulnerability. At my best times, I've felt this—knowing the chances are good that a certain person will mess me over badly, I have been able to nevertheless give my heart over in love. These relationships have resulted in some remarkable transformations in discipleship. At other times, I got messed over as expected. But strangely, these cases of betrayal don't hurt like the others.

A Sad Reality

Why is being betrayed by a friend so frightening? Isn't it our determination to avoid sacrifice that makes this prospect seem so menacing? When we willingly wade into sacrifice, God sustains us, and it's not as bad as we thought it would be. One reason such abandonment hurts less is that our conscience feels clear—I know I loved the person from my heart and gave all I could give. On the other hand, if we contemplate how to protect ourselves from the need to sacrifice, the prospect of betrayal grows larger and larger until it becomes a formidable fear. When abandonment or betrayal hits us, all our fears seem confirmed. The reservoir of dread and fear we have saved up all come crashing down like a loud warning to avoid this in the future!

On the night of his death, we read of Jesus that, "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). As he sat down with them, he spoke vulnerable words of affection, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you … " (Luke 22:14). Yet he knew perfectly well he would be betrayed and deserted by each and every one of them that very night!

Jesus showed an amazing ability to give out—emotionally and every other way—even to those he knew would let him down. Jesus' attention was so riveted on his intent to give that any urge to protect himself was banished. To love one another as he loved us, we will have to take our fears in hand and commit ourselves to give.

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