I know you don’t have difficult volunteers at your church…right?
The reality is, we’ve all experienced 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.
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. It can’t happen with lone-ranger leaders, or one-man-bands.
Even Jesus had to endure difficult and challenging people. In fact he was the master at it. John Ortberg, in his book, The Me I Want To Be, reminds us of the challenges Jesus faced. “The Romans wanted to silence him; Herod wanted to kill him; Pilate washed his hands of him; religious leaders envied him; his family thought he had lost his mind; his townspeople wanted to stone him; Judas betrayed him; soldiers beat him; the crowds shouted for his crucifixion; and his own disciples ran out on him.”
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 his father 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, perhaps we need to model Jesus’ example:
- 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 to prepare ourselves when dealing with challenging people. It prepares our heart and attitude for reconciliation. Ortberg says, “Prayer is the closest we come to being able to influence people at their deepest level, to be able to go with God into another person’s soul, because always between me and the most inner part of another person stands Jesus.” We need to be in prayer for the people we find most challenging.
- 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.
- Train them. Jesus said the people ‘did not know what they were doing.’ Often volunteers serve out of a spirit of frustration when not knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do in their service role. 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, are you training your volunteers, staff, and team members on “speaking the truth in love”, conflict management, radical 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”—-us included. Practicing Jesus-centered leadership may help us move forward in developing people, growing ourselves and our ministries.