One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help. How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another!
Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships. Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter and Ephesians The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people. With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten pastoral skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.
I will call her Nancy.
She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her.
Here is the challenge: How do I love Nancy well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Nancy in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.
1. God is in control.
I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself. With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate.
Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work.
There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy.
There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.
It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment.
If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ. Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress.
Specifically, the New Testament contains rich instruction on relationships, both descriptively how Jesus treats us and prescriptively how we treat each other in response. Ideals such as directly confronting people over offenses, working without garnering praise, and acknowledging that we have a limited ability to change people, are all emphasized in the context of His teaching. If you follow the guidance in it, I believe that, while your worldly success is not guaranteed, your chance of success will be higher. For those of you reading this who are Christians, my intent is not to convey at all that we follow these principles for an outcome: it is to state what I have seen in my business life.
Rick Warren: Dealing with Difficult People | Christian News on Christian Today
God does not promise us any earthly reward for our submission to His principles. Now, to end where I began, I want to say a few other things. I realize there are people who are very "successful" in business who do not believe in God or in a design, perhaps do not give it much thought, and have discarded these things. However, if you look closely at the majority of them, they were or are more or less following the guiding principles of the New Testament.
Also, there are probably some very successful "bad" people who just go about and do as they wish with no reverence for anything other than themselves; however, I believe this case is much rarer than the popular media would make us believe. I realize that not everyone shares these views and thoughts, and I, of course, respect people's right to disagree. Quality journalism has a cost more than selling ads on Aleteia can cover.
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7 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People
Nicholas Senz. Not Prepared to Donate? Subscribe By signing, I acknowledge and agree to the Terms and Conditions. Editor's choice. Toggle navigation. Philip Kosloski. Theresa Aletheia Noble Feb 02, How to accept the inconvenient, the incongruent and the bothersome How should we deal with difficult people? Or they may just be difficult. Heather King writes : [W]hen we are open and receptive to all the world has to offer, and all the world has to teach us, then everything becomes illuminated from within. Since you are here…. Become an Aleteia Patron Today. Silvia Lucchetti and Matthew Green.
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