8 Steps To Dealing With Difficult People In The Church
- Pray. This does not go without saying, for in prayer we commit the matter to God and the work of the Holy Spirit to do what God wills. Prayer is not asking for my way to be done but for God's way. It is asking for wisdom, discernment, courage, grace, and patience, which we especially need in working with difficult leaders.
- Work with those you can. Seek those who love the Lord and his truth and are committed to the church's well-being. Disciple them and encourage their involvement in leadership.
- Preach the Bible graciously and redemptively. Careful, thoughtful, and judicious preaching has great potential for helping difficult people mature in their faith and grow in godliness. It also builds up those who have a deep commitment to God's truth so that they can come alongside you and work with difficult people in the church.
- Be honest but discreet. Don't gossip about difficult people, but be willing to humbly yet directly confront them—or "care-front" as David Augsberger likes to say— in the hope that they might change or leave. Sometimes it is best to do this with a trusted leader at your side. That keeps talk of the event from becoming your word against the other person's should the matter ever go beyond the private conversation.
- Take the long view. God is patient, and how he weaves things together is often different from our timetable. Realize that we are only part of his plan for the church. One person plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase.
- Remember the people belong to God. We refer to the people as "my church," but we know they belong to God, not us. Therefore, we can commit them to God—sometimes with tears and frustration—knowing that God works all things together according to his good purpose.
- Trust in God. Someone has said, "God is the cure-giver; I am only the care-giver." This perspective enables us to trust that God will act as he desires for their good and the greater good of the church.
- Learn from experience. A wise Christian leader once said to a group I was part of, "Personal experience is the only kind I've ever had." So don't apologize for experience, including mistakes, but learn from it, knowing that God uses our personal experience as training ground for future encounters. Like most pastors, I would rather be a peace-keeper than a peace-maker, but I've also learned that painful past experiences like my first church help me to handle later difficulties with confidence and humility (and those two qualities can go together).
Ken Swetland is the Senior Professor of Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
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