My “System” For Handling Difficult People in the Church

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 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 it’s 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. 

(By the way, I’m opening some new opportunities in my calendar to coach and consult. If you want to talk about how I might help you or your church/organization, please email me at Ron.edmondson@gmail.com)  

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Kristi says:

    I recently confronted a staff member who was not fulfilling their assigned role in Children’s ministry after months of mentoring, loving, listening, and leading. It finally came to a head and although it was hard to see them resign from the position I did feel like we had done due diligence. Frankly there is too much at stake to not deal with issues and difficult people. We are compelled to put our full effort into our roles as leaders of the church.
    Lead is a verb. Not a title. Lord help us love and lead as You love and lead us.

  • Mark says:

    Generally the amount of effort put into dealing with difficult people wears out leaders to the point that they disregard the People who are easy to deal with. We aren’t all difficult, awful people. Pay attention to how much effort you waste on the difficult so that you have some energy left.

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