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Dealing With Difficult People in the Church


Do you have a friend or parent, who’s always suspicious of everyone’s motives, especially leaders of the church?

A few years ago, the elders at our church were wrestling with the issue of how much of a role should patriotism play in our church (4th of July, Veterans Day, etc.). There was a small group who opposed us at every turn, which of course is their right, up until we made a final decision. (After all, we elders could be wrong!)

After a tough congregational meeting on the issue, one couple came up to me, (an elder at the time) and made this accusation, “We don’t trust what we’re being told. We think you elders have all kinds of information you’re keeping back from us on this, and many other issues!”

I was very hurt. I know the prayer and hours of discussion that went into our decision and there’s not an elder I don’t respect deeply as men of integrity. So, I made an appointment with our Senior Pastor to discuss why this couple would ever think we’re capable of intentionally hiding facts to support our position. (In all fairness, we elders have made some stupid decisions, but not dishonest or deceitful ones).

“Clare, I’ve counseled with that couple and their adult children for years. The reason they’re suspicious of the leaders of the church, is because they have so many family secrets themselves, and lie to each other all the time. People with secrets and people who lie, tend to be suspicious that everyone else is just like them. They’re simply projecting their own experiences and personalities, on the church leadership.”

I thought his observations was very wise. Since then, I’ve been aware, even in my own life, how true that is. We all are products of our past and the sins of others taint our worldviews.

  1. A woman who remarries after her husband has been unfaithful, will tend to be more suspicious of her new husband’s potential for unfaithfulness.

  2. A man who grew up with a controlling father or mother, will be far more wary of others “trying to control them,” than the child of loving, affirming parents.

So, what do we do about it?

  1. Examine your own life first. Has anyone close to you, who you respect, ever observed that you are highly critical or not trusting of people, especially leaders of your church? If that’s true, have the courage to sit down with them and give them permission to speak honestly to you, even if it hurts. Ask this question without defending yourself, “Please give me some examples of how I tend to be critical?”

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

Then confess your sins to God. Finally, get some help from your pastor or a Christian counselor, if this is a pattern in your life. The roots of a critical spirit are often deep and bad habits die hard.

  1. Talk to a fellow Christian about his or her critical attitude. But, doesn’t the Bible say, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Yes it does. And if you too, have a critical spirit, you should repent of that before you ever speak to a fellow believer about this sin. That way you can come to them and confess your own struggle with a critical spirit.

But the Bible also says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This and other verses of scripture, tell us that the health of the church is best served by gentle, humble and prayerful confrontation.I’ve gone to dozens of men and women and given them my observations of what I perceive to be sinful, or destructive behavior. (It goes well only about 50% of the time). And, I’ve had fellow Christians come to me with questions about my own behavior or character. (I didn’t like it either, but in almost all cases, they were right and I was convicted to change and glad they had the courage to confront me.)

“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

  1. Go with another Christian to speak to a brother or sister in Christ. Matthew 18:15,16 says this, “If your brother or sistersins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” Strictly speaking, this passage speaks only to a personal offense against you. However, serious followers of Jesus have always applied the principle behind this teaching to gently confronting others who hurt the reputation of Christ by their behavior. The goal always is restoration, not confrontation. And any meeting for these purposes, need lots of prayer that the Holy Spirit gives you the right words, and to the person you’re confronting, a teachable spirit.

  2. Do not permit others to be critical of your church leaders. We’ve all stood around after church and have had conversations about decisions the church has made, that we’ve disagreed with. Church leaders can, and do, make mistakes. That’s a different issue than accusing them of deceit. That is a sin.

If ever you hear a fellow Christian making a moral accusation about a leader(s), ask this question. “Do you know for a fact that the leaders or this person willfully deceived you (or us)?” If they have facts, then you ought to offer to go with them and meet with the leadership. However, if they don’t have facts, then a good response is, “I’d be careful about accusing anyone, but especially a leader of the church with immorality, without facts.” “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.” 1 Timothy 5:19,20

Finally One of the major reasons some people leave the church, is gossip and dissension in the church. Gossip isn’t a lie. It’s truth, inappropriately passed on to another. Be vigilant that you are not a stumbling block yourself, or that you tolerate it in your church. Speak the truth in love.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7

How following Jesus works in real life.

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