by | Apr 25, 2024 | Difficult people, Leadership, Ministry Leader, Pastor

Difficult people go to church.


I wish it wasn’t true . . . but sadly, it is.


Not all people who go to church are difficult. In fact, the majority are not. But those who can make life miserable for a leader.

I graduated from Oral Roberts University a starry-eyed 22-year-old who was going to change the world for Jesus. No matter where God planted me and Laura, we were going to set records for Him. We would love people, and they would love us. It didn’t take long for reality to shatter my rose-colored-glasses view of ministry. Six months into my first youth pastor role, I discovered that difficult people attended the church I served.

As great as the ORU education was, it did not prepare me to handle the vocal minority of churchgoers who had a nasty streak. So, when the verbal abusers, divisive members, and boundary-crashers behaved badly, I had no strategy to deal with it—except to absorb their misbehavior. I got angry when it happened, but since I was a Christian and a pastor, and ignorant about this subject . . . I absorbed abuse from difficult people rather than addressing it.

Here is what I didn’t know during the early stages of ministry: pastors who intend on leading for the long-haul need steel in their spine. And that includes periodically dealing directly, honestly, and lovingly with difficult people. It occasionally requires making tough calls.

Here is an example of a tough call found in the apostle Paul’s letter to a pastor named Titus. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Titus 3:10-11 (NIV).

Wow . . . just wow. I wonder how church life would change if we followed Paul’s process? Every church I’ve attended, led, or consulted with has been populated with a few difficult people.


For a pastor, tough calls with people who behave badly require a great deal of thought, prayer, wisdom, and humility. Paul was not advising Titus to adopt an “off with their heads” approach the first time a divisive person spread their poison. He pointed out the mistake of swinging to the other extreme—putting up with or ignoring divisive behavior for too long. When pastors avoid these kinds of confrontations, they suffer, their church suffers, and surprise . . . so does the divisive person. Everybody loses.


Some pastors object: “But isn’t the confrontational approach unloving?” Nope. One of the kindest and most biblically sound things a pastor can do for a difficult person in their church is to tell them truth, wrapped with massive amounts of love. Let’s face it: most leaders hate these kinds of conversations. They sap time, energy, and often, sleep.

Managing conflict is one of the most difficult challenges facing leaders. And for some pastors, they don’t face it . . . they avoid it. Or should I say, postpone it. Because eventually that conflict will boil over and you’ll have to deal with it.


Dodging tough calls is not loving . . . it is limiting. Postponing conflict is one of the most common leadership lids I know of. It limits what God can do through you. 

Speaking of limits, Paul placed limits on the number of appeals he offered to people trying to divide the church. They got two chances. After that, he counseled Titus to stop wasting time and energy on a person who by Paul’s definition was “warped and sinful.” Unfortunately, someone who operates at that level usually has no intention of changing.

How do I know if someone might be “warped”? It is hard to determine always, but if they are unteachable, and if they are trying to create a following, chances are they fit Paul’s description.


So, when it comes to difficult people trying to divide the church you lead: two warnings, and no more. Remember, you have other people in your congregation who are on board with you. Invest your time and energy with them instead.


Nobody said leading was easy. And if they did, they were lying to you.


What are some obstacles that get in a leader’s way here?

  • Lack of permission – More than a few leaders feel they have no right to speak the truth in love. But if you look at Jesus, or the apostle Paul, or any of the writers of Scripture, you see they dealt with difficult people head on.
  • Lack of education – Many pastors have never been taught/shown how to deal with difficult people. But for the health of all involved parties—you, your church, and the difficult individual—please educate yourself on managing conflict.
  • Lack of understanding – Conflict presents an opportunity for all parties involved to grow. People who possess bullying tendencies. Those who have doormat tendencies. And . . . the leaders who often find themselves in the middle.


If you struggle with difficult people, educate yourself with relevant books on this subject. Find a coach who can walk alongside as you learn healthier ways of responding. Converge Coaching Coaches are here to serve you.


Rooting and praying for you,