Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leading Difficult People

Sometimes as church leaders, a person who serves under our leadership is extremely difficult to lead. Perhaps they contradict you publicly or exhibit a less than stellar work ethic. Or maybe they do not fulfill their service commitments, regularly calling out at the last minute on Sundays, or even falling to show up without communicating. How are we to lead these people?

First let's ask the all important big question: what is the nature and purpose of the church? Certainly this is a fundamental question if we are to properly function as leaders within the church. The scripture teaches us that the church is to be the people of God, engaged in discipleship and disciple-making (Matthew 28:18-20 ). One principle that can be taken from the language of scripture regarding the church is that the journey of discipleship is one we are all on together. There is no one within the church, even the most godly and famous leaders, who have arrived at the pinnacle of discipleship and are no longer growing in their faith. Additionally, we are to recognize our interdependence upon one another, our need of each other that is such a fundamental part of our new nature as Christians. This is not to mention the fact that we are all constantly in need of God's grace which he often gives us through our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Now you may be wondering: "So do I let a person like this just do what they want?" In fact this is the opposite of what I am proposing; such a course hardly serves the person causing you difficulty well in light of our goal of building one another up in discipleship - not to mention the havoc that can be like a cancer in a ministry when a situation is not dealt with. There are times when all you can do as a leader is ask someone to step down from their role. If our dual goals are to facilitate discipleship in this person's life while leading the ministry in an effective way so as to facilitate discipleship in the life of the church, how should one proceed? Here are a few suggestions:
Season Your Leadership with the Grace and Love Of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2) - Remember the cross? The sin of every one of us made the gruesome, salvific work of Christ upon the cross of Golgotha necessary. Even as the folks that irritate us most push us towards the edge of sanity, they too are loved by God such that he would die on the Cross for their sin. We might never know the pain or suffering that such a person has experienced that contributes to their struggles - so even as we seek to help them grow in Christ and lead well our ministry we must do so in a way that clearly communicates the grace and love of Christ our Savior.
Have Clear Expectations - Most larger churches excel at policies and structures that make expectations clear while smaller churches tend to focus less on them. If we are going to have expectations of those serving under us (and we always do) it is very helpful to them that these expectations be clearly expressed and agreed upon before they begin serving. This way, in case there are issues, there is a clear reference point for the loving conversations that will need to take place.
Don't Pretend Nothing is Wrong Until An Explosion Happens (Matthew 18) - From the earliest signs of issues with a person who serves under us, we should be lovingly and intentionally interacting with them - helping them to see the issues and giving them opportunities to adjust and grow. The worst case scenario in doing this is that they absolutely reject all loving counsel and rebuke. But you can rest on the fact that you genuinely sought to help them and to avoid having to ask them to step down.
Always Seek Restoration, Never Punishment or Revenge (Matthew 18) - The purpose of working with someone on these issues is that they would grow into a healthy, serving member of the body of Christ. If we ever find ourselves addressing these issues in irritation, we must stop the conversation and return to it when we have had time to be still before the Lord so that the motivation of anger can be replaced by that of restoration. In the long run, you may have some folks that you work with for an extended period of time on their issues, but you will see that if you seek restoration with the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, usually people will respond well.
Be Open To Reasonable Criticism - This has two benefits. First, you will grow as a Christian and as a leader. We all need the wisdom and counsel of other spirit-filled believers to help us along in the discipleship process (Romans 15:14). Second, you will simultaneously model what receiving godly rebuke looks like, and validate the corrections that you offer others. Many leaders are afraid to be vulnerable in this way, but these leaders are missing out on much of the Christian life! (Hebrews 10:24)
Odds and Ends - A couple of other issues that often get raised in these situations are questions about the difficult person's salvation, and the number of times a person should be allowed to transgress the rules or boundaries. To the first question: in some cases you may never know if they are in fact saved. Either way, you can know that God made them, loves them, and desires that they be loved by His church. To the second question, it is difficult and likely unhelpful (although tempting) to install a three strikes you're out type of rule in ministry. However, each person and situation is different, and likely will require a sensitive and customized approach.

The above article was taken and adapted from Church Production Magazine.

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