Dealing with Difficult People

I’ve often heard that the worst thing about Churches is that they are filled with imperfect people. Whilst this isn’t the extreme truth, the reality is that some people are harder to deal with than others. You’ll get people who:

i. Are stuck in the past to the extent that any changes are frowned upon
ii. Only want what’s best for their inner-circle; without regard for the broader Church or community
iii. Are generally unhappy people

Whatever the context, the reality is that you will undoubtedly face people in the Church who are either not happy with what you are doing or who you are. Nobody enjoys being disliked, so how do we counteract these people who seem to only want to tear you down at every opportunity. I will give you seven quick and easy strategies in how to deal with these difficult people.


    1. Always love and affirm the person
      I’ll be blunt here; our knee-jerk reaction in response to someone who is being potentially unkind is to respond in-turn. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44 that we need to bless those who curse you,  do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
      Sounds pretty counter-cultural, right? Give it a go, because that’s what the Gospel is all about; love. And if it means you need to set a healthy precedent, so be it.


    1. Always bring it back to the ‘why’
      You have probably noticed that I’m big on ‘vision‘, and it’s for good reason. The vision is what we align our decision-making and strategy on. Without an agreed and understood direction, ministry becomes a free-for-all. The vision is the ‘why’ we do things, so every conversation (whether positive or negative) needs to come back to the why.
      If a person comes to you and challenges a particular decision that was made, always paint the bigger picture for them so that they can see what’s happening in context. This will reveal the heart behind their remonstration.
      It’s totally possible that they have a valid point, so don’t forget your teachability at a time like this. However, they may just be the sort of person that is never satisfied until they get what they want. If so, keep reading!


    1. Stop trying to please everyone
      Here’s the thing about ministry; you will NEVER please everyone. I once had a pastor who tried to please everyone and he would say that he was quite successful at it. However, those he didn’t please either left for greener pastures or suffered in silence as their passion for anything that resembled a vision faded away.
      Most importantly, if you do manage to please everyone, it’ll likely be at the expense of your own leadership. You would have probably compromised on too much and you end up resenting yourself for sacrificing your vision just to keep the peace.I’m not suggesting that you just write people off as ‘anti-visioners’. Try as hard as you can to get them on board through healthy understanding through upfront dialogue. But if they still aren’t pleased and are more-or-less demanding that the vision takes a backseat in lieu of their comfort, then it may be time to have a serious conversation about their part to play in the direction of the ministry.


    1. Never promise or agree to get out of a situation
      Leadership is tough, and there are seasons where you will feel like that you’re constantly walking through a furnace without much respite. You may feel like the rich man who went to Hell in Luke 16. He was in so much discomfort and pain that he begged for just one drop of water; one ounce of respite just to get him through.
      Ministry is often like that; we feel like we just get barraged over and over without much let-up.
      It can be tempting at this point to promise or agree with that serial complainer just to get out of a situation that is only adding to the discomfort of ministry. Don’t do it; you will probably undo all the hard work and effort you have put in when trying to form a culture of vision-championing.
      I admit, I have done this before, and can tell you that this quick promise took months to undo. Don’t do it.


    1. Wait at least 24 hours before responding
      This is perhaps the best advice I was given by my mentor. We often feel the need to respond to a harsh criticism right away, particularly if it’s delivered via email or text. I’ve learned that it’s best to allow this criticism to sit there for at least 24 hours to give you an opportunity to process and pray about it. The flesh wants to respond right away to either ‘make things right’ or to fire back.
      Nothing constructive has ever come from an extemporaneous response to criticism or judgement. Give it time and give it to God.


    1. Take it up a level in communication
      It took me years to learn the art and discipline of this one; always take the communication up a level. What this does is allows you as the leader to maintain a level of regulation over the issue at hand. It also challenges the other person to exit their comfort zone; which is particularly beneficial when dealing with high-friction situations.
      If someone texts you, call them. If someone calls you, offer to meet with them. If someone corners you at Church, again; make an appointment time where they can come and see you.
      Taking it up a level ensures that the issue-at-hand is dealt with a level of honesty, integrity and transparency.


  1. Pray with them
    Don’t just pray for them, but offer to pray with them. This brings the situation out of the worldly and into the spiritual. Go to God together and seek His counsel.

    Seems like a no-brainer but it always shocks me how seldom this is done in situations like this.What are some ways you deal with difficult people?

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