Dealing with Difficult People
Although there are several reason why ministry leaders burn-out, one of the most common is weariness in dealing with difficult people. Working with the human heart and spirit is challenging to say the least. It is also rather unpredictable. The counsel or reasoning you used on one person may not work at all on the next person. A congregation of two hundred people will have three hundred opinions or agendas. As the years roll by, leaders with the strongest of temperaments can become weary.
At one point Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “Oh you of little faith, how long do I have to put up with you?” Any of us, including the Son of Man, can become weary with human stubbornness. You are not alone.
From a Tree of Life view point, what can we do to cope? Here are some suggestions, and I would love to hear more from you and what you have learned so we can add to our list.
(A) First, let’s make sure you and I are not one of the “difficult” people. Stated another way, let’s make sure we have crucified the self daily and continue to work on it with the Holy Spirit’s strength. The more we can get out of the way, the more the Emmanuel agenda can unfold. Our own agenda often can mean trouble and conflict with others. They have their agenda too.
Ideally, a church is made up of children of God that have died to self. They are a group who gather to practice the community we see in the Triune Godhead. Church should be a community that spends its life glorifying, praising, encouraging, exalting and inspiring one another. In the Godhead we see the example for all relationships. Father, Son and Holy Spirit uplift one another to the point they are “one.” Jesus prayed that we the church could be one as they are one. Believer’s meetings should be the most exciting and positive experiences of our week, not something that puts a knot in your intestines.
The human reality is, self, is our biggest stumbling block. The people of God need to learn well, that following Jesus means dying to self. North American Christianity often teaches the opposite.
When you and I can live as totally crucified servants of Jesus, He will work powerfully through us. Under those circumstances, when others find fault with us, they are really finding fault with Jesus.
(B) Preach and teach Jesus, the all in all. When we stick to talking about Jesus it does become harder for the difficult people to find fault with what we are teaching. Jesus is the Kingdom, the way, the truth, the Sabbath, the King of Kings, etc, etc, etc. When we get off onto some pet doctrine or viewpoint we should not be upset when someone comes along and challenges us on the direction we are taking the congregation. Preach and teach Jesus! Jesus is the biggest and most exciting topic in the galaxy!
(C) Be a teachable listener. If you are willing to listen long when people are explaining their point of view, you may win over more people than you think. People want to be heard. It makes them feel like they do have some ownership in the congregation.
(D) Like Jesus, ask questions – challenge the difficult people. Throw the ball back in their court. Put them in a place where they need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem – or they need to let it go.
(E) Refuse to be defensive. Don’t take things personally. People are often upset about something that may have nothing to do with you. It may be a denominational viewpoint, or an opinion that makes little difference. Preach Jesus, teach Jesus, talk Jesus, show love to all, and don’t take the critics personally. The church belongs to Jesus, not us.
(F) Refuse to engage in arguments. It takes two to make a fight. Learn how to disengage and explain you will only continue this discussion in a tree of life atmosphere. Walk away from people whose sole purpose is to argue rather than hear another viewpoint.
(G) Smile and touch. Always be respectful. Always smile and reach out and place a hand on a shoulder. Life overcomes death. Light overcomes darkness. It is hard for a difficult person to continue being a pain when you are smiling and squeezing their shoulder and maintaining your warm kind eye contact. A gentle answer turns away wrath.
(H) Have well trained “helpers” as a part of your leadership team. These are people who know how stressful your service to people is, and they do what they can to support you emotionally and physically by being trouble shooters that befriend and love-on the difficult people of the congregation. Moses could not do it all, and his father-in-law had to help him understand how to spread the load.
(I) Come hell or high water, try to end every conversation with difficult people by speaking a final life-giving sentence into the very spirit of the person while you give their shoulder one last squeeze. Father, Son and Holy Spirit live out this loving community continuously. It is the Kingdom thing to do.
(J) Remember, the religious establishment spit in Jesus’ face. When it happens to you, try to see it as an honor to experience the sufferings of our King!
Please add any more suggestions you have in the comments section below. May Father bless you all with peace of mind, heart and spirit!