My “System” For Handling Difficult People in the Church

by | Jul 13, 2020 | Church Health, Church Revitalization

I was talking with a pastor that I coach recently. He asked me how I handle difficult people in the church. I assured him I didn’t know what he was talking about. I’ve never encountered any difficult people in the church.

After a good laugh, I explained my “system” for dealing with difficult people, which has developed over the years of leading. I never put words around them, but those words came to me as we talked.

Here is my three-part “system” for dealing with difficult people:

Love them

I think we have to start here as people of faith. We are called to love everyone. Yes, it is hard sometimes to love extremely difficult people. Frankly, I’ve encountered people in the church I would even label “mean”. There have been a few I’ve sincerely questioned their salvation at times. I don’t know how a Christian could talk to people or about people as I’ve heard some do.

But I l have learned, especially in church revitalization work, that if I can’t love people I can’t lead them. Jesus even told us to love our enemies, didn’t He? Years ago, the Lord gently nudged me that if I’m loving Him as I should be I will love everyone in our church. So, in every church where I’ve served, I’ve almost had a standard-bearer for this principle. I know if I’m not able to love them I need to check my heart.

And I should mention that part of loving people is listening to them – with the intent to understand. Many times difficult people just want to be heard.

Level with them

I have learned not to sugarcoat or gloss over difficult people’s actions. I’m not loving people if I allow them to act in unbiblical ways. Instead, I need to be honest with them. I view it as a part of discipleship. I have had to say to people, “Did you know the tone of your emails are harsh?” I’ve had to challenge some people who verbally attack a staff member.

One New Testament theme appears to me to be unity in the Body. I am not afraid, therefore to challenge gossipers, harsh attitudes, or power-mongering if it is going to be disruptive to the church and its mission.

Lead them

Obviously, Jesus is the leader of the church, but He has empowered some of us to serve in leadership positions. I know part of my role is to move people in a direction towards our mission. As pastor, I can’t allow a few difficult people to hijack the church or its progress. I’m not at all claiming that is easy, and it takes years of learning to do this well, but the work of the church is too important not to lead the church forward in advancing the Gospel.

That’s an overview of how I deal with difficult people. Hope it helps you.

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Ron Edmondson

I am CEO of Leadership Network. I was previously pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church, a church leader and the planter of two churches. I am passionate about planting churches but also helping established churches thrive. I love assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy, and life. My specialty is organizational leadership, so in addition to my role as a pastor, as I have time, I consult with church and ministry leaders. I have more than 35 years of leadership experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and have been in full-time ministry for over 15 years. I have successfully led the restart of one church and the planting of two churches, and now we are seeing God’s hand tremendously in church revitalization. I have a seminary masters and a master’s in organizational leadership. I also once helped lead (as an elected official) a mid-sized city, where I served as Vice Mayor and Finance Chair. The greatest times for me are with my wife Cheryl and our amazing adult sons, Jeremy, his wife Mary, and our youngest son Nate. Over 20 years ago, I founded a non-profit ministry called Mustard Seed Ministry, which provides devotional resources, conducts family, marriage, and parenting, and church leadership seminars. My INTJ personality on the Myers-Briggs indicator means I have big ideas, I love creative and critical thinking and I love to see progress. I am usually around people but crave downtime. For years I was usually training for either a half or full marathon. Running was my most productive thinking time. Knee problems in recent years have caused me to stop running, but I’m committed to finding the time I need to fuel my mind, body, and spirit. I write several times weekly on leadership, church, and family. To sign up for my blog on a reader or by email, click HERE. I do interact with my readers, so feel free to contact me. You can email me at ron.edmondson@gmail.com.I am also on Google+ at http://www.gplus.to/ronedmondson, Twitter at www.twitter.com/ronedmondson and Facebook at www.facebook.com/ronaedmondson. My devotional site is www.mustardseedministry.com