There is always at least that one person that is extremely annoying or that hard-nosed personality that causes problems in the various arenas of our lives. And those people for some reason often seem most obvious within the church.
The church can be a ripe environment for people to be victimized by those who see being right as more important than being nice or by those who make absolutes out of issues that others see as negotiable. Church leaders and members who are willing to bend in order to keep the peace tend to give leverage to stubborn individuals willing to make a public scene. This gives space for strong personalities to grab the steering wheel of the church and alter it in their own direction. These power-seekers may have good intentions, but their impact can be destructive.
Marshall Shelley calls these types of people “well-intentioned dragons” in his book Ministering to Problem People in Your Church”. He opens the book with stories of complex conflicts within the church. He goes on to explain how to identify these types of people and helps the reader understand why they act the way they do. The latter half of the book, he provides practical strategies for not only dealing with these types of people, but how you can effectively minister to them as well.
Some key points that I take from this book:
- We learn agape love most effectively in our involuntary associations, away from the temptation of choosing to love only the attractive.
- Boundary setting may seem unlovely and cold, but it can foster spiritual growth by keeping needy people from being to reliant, relying on you instead of the Holy Spirit, using you as a substitute high priest, tempting you to usurp Christ’s role in the sanctification process.
- Ministering to those with mental illness is difficult and may make you feel like a failure in ministry. We cannot help everyone, but we are called to servanthood, not visible success, so don’t ignore these people.
- Not every problem is a spiritual problem. Not every disagreement is a clash between good and evil.
- The key to a discipling and reconciling ministry is to see that people change. You must not dwell on what they were but what they are becoming and what they can become.
- Griping is the luxury of those with small jobs.
This book helped me to feel more compassionate toward difficult people and more patient when conflicts arise. It also gave me courage to set boundaries instead of feeling guilty for not ministering as every person wants. Even more so, it helped me appreciate the stupid things that pastors and ministry leaders have to deal with among the difficult people and quirky personalities in a congregation.
If you are a pastor or leader in church ministry, I highly recommend this book. And if you are not, but find people within the church challenging to get along with, you may be encouraged by this book and better equipped to cope with them.
I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.