3 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

3 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People
January 12, 2011 Bob D'Ambrosio

I know you don’t have difficult church volunteers, right?  So just skip today’s article if you’ve never had to deal with a challenging personality.

The reality is, we’ve all served alongside people with personalities that, well, let’s just say—aren’t too pleasant. Sometimes it’s tempting to think how wonderful ministry would be if we didn’t have to deal with difficult teams, dysfunctional committees, irritating co-workers, or anyone who has a different opinion, or way of doing things. But that wouldn’t really be ministry, would it?

Ministry leadership is the ability to function with all members of the body of Christ, in such a manner that God is glorified and people are served. Even Jesus had to endure difficult and challenging people. Is it possible that God places difficult people in our lives to grow us? To make us more loving? More forgiving?

When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed to God saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” I believe this is sound advice for us as well.

When dealing with difficult people, we need to model Jesus’ example:

  1. Pray for them. Jesus could have used his last moments to pray for the un-difficult people in his life. His mother and father. His followers. The sick and the poor. Instead, he prays for the ones who gave him the most difficulty. Prayer is the first step when dealing with challenging people. It prepares our heart and attitude for reconciliation.
  2. Forgive them. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek—because he was the master cheek-turner. This principle has influenced world civil rights leaders and movements from Mahatma Gandhi, to Martin Luther, to Desmond Tutu. The first pastor I served with in ministry helped me learn that if I didn’t forgive those who hurt or disappointed me, I’d never be able to minister to them—or minister with them. Forgiveness sets the stage for working together to do kingdom work.
  3. Train them. I called a church the other day and a volunteer receptionist sounded rather put out at my request to be connected to the pastor’s office. (A difficult person, I’m thinking!) In her frustration, she finally confessed that she didn’t know how—no one had trained her on the phone system. In addition to skill training for their service, are you training your volunteers, staff, and team members on “speaking the truth in love”, conflict management, hospitality, and perhaps, even basic communication skills? Develop people by training them to be successful.

Our church, and our world, is filled with ‘difficult people”—including us! Practicing Jesus-style leadership can help us move forward in developing people, and growing ourselves and our ministries.



  1. Andee Marks 13 years ago

    I really like #3. It speaks to equipping as an integral part of discipleship. As we train our volunteers in the skills they need to accomplish their task, we need to always remember that ministry–ours and theirs–is primarily about being formed into the likeness of Christ.

  2. Corey 11 years ago

    Really great advice. I volunteer to lead/write the sunday school lessons at our church. One day I overheard a volunteer complaining about how terrible the lessons are and how she could do a better job. So I said that was a great idea and I could really use the help. She responded by saying she didn’t have time and was too busy. A few months later I found out from another church member that she was again saying that she really wanted to write the lesson plans. I emailed her right away and asked to meet up to discuss possible themes and activities, and again she respond by saying she didn’t have time. Now I found out today that she has been saying she wants to write the lessons but that I wouldn’t let her help. This is my first leadership position at a church and I’m not really sure how to confront this person.

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