How to Deal With Difficult People in Your Church (Without Exploding)

leadership Jun 07, 2024
dealing with difficult people can be stressful

Every church has its share of difficult people. 

They’re the people who are perpetually dismissive or resistant to what seems like everything you and your team attempt to do. 

But you have to hand it to them—they’re consistent. Consistently critical and dissatisfied with the church. 

You often wonder, why are they even here?

With difficult people, you have two options: respond in helpful ways or unhelpful ways.

Now, before we get to the helpful ways to deal with difficult people, let’s get the temptations out in the open.

How You Might Like to Deal With Difficult People in Your Church (But Shouldn’t) 

1. Try to defeat the difficult person in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Because obviously if you dominate them, they’ll finally see your side…

2. Break out your best dance moves and try to distract the difficult person from their problematic behavior. Because they just need a little more music in their life, right?!

3. Attempt to reason with the difficult person by speaking in a made-up language. English wasn’t working anyway…

4. Keep a stash of snacks on hand to bribe the difficult person into being more agreeable. Go in peace, be warm, and well fed, right?!

5. Try to solve the problem using interpretive dance. Then they’ll finally understand where you’re coming from…

6. Respond to the difficult person's problematic behavior with a carefully-timed and well-placed whoopee cushion. They clearly need some comic relief in their life, right?!

7. Take a page from the animal kingdom and try to assert dominance over the difficult person. After all, sometimes the best thing a person can receive for their walk with God is a solid punch in the face, right?!

8. Use a series of puns and dad jokes to defuse the situation. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.

9. Get into a shouting match or argument with the difficult person. Everyone just needs a little more blood pressure. That will allow us to think more clearly…

10. Talk about the difficult person behind their back and spread rumors or gossip. Because the best defense is a good offense, amen?!

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about a better way to deal with difficult people in your church.

How to Deal with Difficult People in Your Church (Without Exploding)

1. Listen. This can be tough, especially if they have shown themselves to be consistently difficult and combative. But the first step to understanding is listening (not just to respond but to truly understand). Look them in the eye and stay curious.

2. Breathe. Your body is going to want to amp up in conflict. Because it’s trying to protect you and be ready to respond to the perceived threat. But the best thing you can do is to stay calm. Breathe in your belly, not just in your chest. This will help you slow down and stay level-headed.

3. Recognize the anxiety in yourself. Stay aware of what’s going on inside of you. You might notice your heart beginning to beat faster. Maybe your shoulders are tensing up. Keep breathing and continue noticing what’s going on inside yourself. And be careful, because that’s what could come out toward them (and it won’t help the situation).

4. Recognize the anxiety between you and them. As they are sharing, notice what the dynamic seems like between you and them. And then when it’s time to respond, call that dynamic out. I can tell that you’re upset about this. Or, you seem very angry about this. Can you tell me more? 

5. Don’t carry what’s not yours to carry. Often, difficult people are going to place on you that which is not yours to carry. Instead, it’s theirs to carry. They’re upset with someone but they haven’t talked to them about it (they need to have that conversation). They’re angry about what seems to be a petty thing (they could be avoiding something in their own life that they really need to deal with). It is not your responsibility to take on what is theirs to carry. The best thing to do? Number 6.

6. Ask questions. Stay curious. This will help you understand them and help them see that you’re trying to understand them. Curiosity will keep you connected to them—even if they’re being unreasonable.

7. Be kind. Kindness can be quickly abandoned in these moments. Don’t do it. Don’t let their lack of kindness influence you more than the Holy Spirit is influencing you. Remember, God is with you and God is with them. But you only get to control whether you are allowing the Spirit to guide you. Be kind. But that also doesn’t mean be a doormat. See number 8.

8. Be assertive. Sometimes, those who are being difficult are making requests of you or the church overall that is not in line with your (or the church’s) values or current practices. It’s good to be kind and to be clear that if they’re asking you something that you won’t be doing, to tell them that. If they have a complaint, ask them for some solutions they see. Assertiveness is the posture of a healthy person who has distinct values and boundaries and will maintain those values and boundaries even in the face of aggression. So be assertive, not passive. Be assertive, not aggressive.

9. Don’t allow disrespect. You don’t have to be someone’s punching bag. You might feel like that’s your duty, but I assure you it’s not. If someone is being disrespectful to you, tell them that. And if this is someone who has become a consistently difficult, abrasive, and disrespectful person, don’t meet with them unless you have an elder or staff member accompany you. 

10. Purge the cortisol as soon as you can. Whenever you deal with stress, your body produces cortisol. This is great when you’re in a life and death situation requiring you to run or defend yourself. But when it is built up in a room across from someone, it just stays there. And increased cortisol levels can “impair memory, contribute to weight gain and even accelerate the aging process.” So what should you do? Exercise. Go sweat. Do something physically difficult. Get more sleep. Go on a walk in the woods and pray. 

People Are Gonna People

Expect it. You will deal with difficult people. Heck, sometimes the difficult person you’ve got to deal with is… you. Don’t forget that. 

But make this decision now: decide now how you will choose to respond the next time you’re in a conflict.

God is with you. And God is with them.

And be encouraged: He is working.

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