by | Dec 15, 2016 | Calling, Difficult people, Leadership, Uncategorized

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 my rose-colored-glasses view of ministry to be shattered. 6 months into my first youth pastor role, I made a huge discovery: Difficult people go to church.

As great as the ORU education was, it didn’t 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, submerged those angry feelings were (Wow, I sound like Yoda). Out of ignorance I put up with too much abuse for too long. What I didn’t know was pastors who intend on leading for the long haul need steel in their spine. And that includes periodically making tough calls.

Here’s an example of a tough call contained 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). Strong words from the Apostle Paul.

Every church I’ve attended, led, or consulted with has been populated with a few difficult people. Kent Crockett writes: “In most churches, the people who attack the pastor comprise only four percent of the congregation. They may be elders, deacons, or disloyal staff members who work behind the scenes to undermine a pastor’s ministry through slander and false accusation.”

For a pastor, tough calls 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 was pointing 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 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 huge amounts love. Let’s face it: most leaders hate these kinds of conversations. They sap time and energy and often times, sleep. Dealing with the vocal four percent is one of the most difficult challenges leaders face. And for some pastors, they don’t face it… they avoid it.

Dodging tough calls is not loving.  Allowing difficult people to have their way with you and your church is not leadership. A loving approach addresses a difficult person’s behavior in a kind but firm way. 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 is warped and sinful usually has no intention of changing. So when it comes to difficult people trying to divide your church: 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. How much better would church life (and your life) be if you learned how to make tough calls regarding dividers?

Pastor, in addition to dealing with dividers, there are many other difficult situations you’ll have to work through: hiring/firing of staff; being honest with a leader who is miscast in their role; challenging a team member who is underperforming or has an attitudinal issue; etc. Nobody said leading was easy. But some pastors have never been shown how to make tough calls. Others don’t realize they can or should.  But for the health of all involved parties—you, your church, and the difficult individual—please understand making tough calls is part of your pastoral assignment.

If you struggle with difficult people, find a mentor or a coach who can walk alongside as you learn healthier ways of responding.  Educate yourself with relevant books on the subject. My most recent book devotes a large chunk of real estate to dealing with difficult people. You can reach out to me at [email protected] for assistance as well. In next week’s blog, we’ll discuss five practical keys to navigating conversations with difficult people.

I’m rooting and praying for you!



  1. HOW TO TALK WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE | Converge Coaching - […] last week’s blog, Leadership & Difficult People we stated that longevity in ministry requires pastors to occasionally make tough people-decisions.…