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This post was written by Sam Rainer and originally appeared here.

Every church has difficult people. Most people will be difficult at some point. Likely, you’ve been a difficult person. Some are consistently difficult, while others are only difficult in certain scenarios.

Do not confuse difficult people with antagonists.

Difficult people challenge you. Antagonists are hostile. Difficult people can be supportive. Antagonists default to opposition. Difficult people are usually stubborn because they believe they are right. Antagonists are bullies because they are selfish. Just because a person is difficult does not mean he or she is sinning.

You deal with those who are difficult much differently than those who are antagonists. God will use difficult people to sharpen your leadership skills, but pastors should protect the sheep from antagonists.

People in the church are difficult for three main reasons.

  1. They challenge your leadership.
  2. They consume your time.
  3. They drain you emotionally.

What does a difficult person look like, and how can you win them over?

The well-informed influencer has been in the church and community for an extended time. People trust his or her opinion. These influencers can sway a room with a few comments even if they do not hold a position of power. People listen to them because they like them. When the well-informed influencer challenges your leadership, you usually have a lot of work in front of you. Rather than challenging influencers, ask them to work with you on a modified plan. I use the 80% rule when making decisions in the church. If I can get to 80% of my original vision, then it’s usually worth moving forward. Consensus can build momentum. Hard-nosed visionaries often have their ideas die on deserted islands.

The stubborn gatekeeper may or may not be liked by others, but he or she holds a position of formal power in the church. These gatekeepers can be chairs of committees, elders on a board, or part of the deacon body. They control meetings by setting the agendas and are not afraid to leverage their position of power. Rather than overpowering their authority, try the leadership tactic of asking thoughtful questions. You don’t want to get into a one-on-one battle with the gatekeeper in front of others.

When you calmly and humbly ask questions, you are less likely to agitate and more likely to disarm. Additionally, thoughtful questions often prompt others to speak up.

The competitive debater loves a good argument and relishes in the back-and-forth nature of heated banter. Frankly, debaters may not even realize how difficult they can be. They have fun arguing and are energized by conflict. Often, they mean nothing personal, but their desire to win arguments is time-consuming and draining. Trying to beat them at their own game will not only exhaust you but also everyone else who is in the room. Win over the debaters by deflecting the argument with humor. Granted, the use of humor can be dangerous, especially if you don’t land the joke. A safe way to use humor is by being self-deprecating. Disarm the needless argument with humor.

Do not treat difficult people as if they are antagonists. Often, difficult people have good motives, but they struggle to channel their energy appropriately. You can help them by de-escalating their challenges rather than exhausting yourself trying to prove them wrong.


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