Mobilizing the church requires removing barriers that stand in the way of advancement. This will require, with great care, confronting and even removing toxic people. Dealing with difficult people automatically comes with church leadership, and it should not surprise you. Conflict is inevitable. Take a look at the people the Apostle Paul confronted, called out and corrected. Paul faced opposition from church members that hurt him deeply and forced him to defend himself. All churches have conflict, and you must be prepared to address it correctly.
After 40 plus years of full-time ministry, it is easy to remember names and faces of people who were very difficult to pastor. I am fully aware that there were times I was part of the problem because I did not handle conflict resolution well. Sometimes I was just too thin skinned and other times too hard-headed. Conflict resolution is exhausting because it takes a lot of time and emotional energy, but you cannot afford to look the other way and jeopardize your church’s health and stability. You must fulfill your duty, as a shepherd of God’s flock, by addressing conflicts (Acts 20:28-29).
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to resolve the problem. You will never be able to make everyone happy, nor should you try. Romans 12:18 says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” Even if it cannot be resolved, our goal should always be that when we can look in the mirror we can honestly say, “I did my best, by the grace of God, to resolve it.” How well you deal with conflict and difficult people will have a major effect on the health and growth of your church. Do not ignore the conflict and, before you give up in any situation, do the right things to resolve it.
Conflict is not sinful, but it can easily become sinful. On a recent podcast, Sam Rainer said this, “Your church members will not always agree with you. Just because someone disagrees with you or has a different opinion, that does not mean they are toxic.” Our DCPI training states, “Expect, and welcome, differences of opinion. Conflict does not present trouble in itself. Often, conflict can bring creative solutions to problems. Trouble comes when people act sinfully in their conflicts.” There is a huge difference between constructive criticism and someone with a critical heart. You must do what is right and handle it the right way.
You will not always be able to avoid conflict and you must be prepared to handle it in a biblical manner. In Gal. 2:11 we have an example of Paul confronting another leader: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Usually, the best approach is the direct approach because, all too often, we think it will work itself out if given enough time. More often than not, it gets worse if left to itself. You will struggle with confronting conflict if you are a people pleaser who desires to be liked, but you must love them enough to speak the truth in love.
Your first step in confronting toxic difficult people is prayer. You should pray for them and about them. God is still able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think. Maybe this is the perfect time for God to deal with their hearts and for a miraculous transformation to occur. Pray for God to give you the right heart to minister to them the best you can. Pray for them to receive the rebuke as a divine moment for spiritual growth and biblical resolution to occur. Pray that God will give you the right things to say and the right time to say them. Prayer enables you to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit.
At the end of I Thessalonians 5, Paul challenged the church to do three things. In verse 25 he says, “Pray for us.” All churches should pray for their leaders and the leaders should be praying for those they lead. Pray for wisdom, discernment, endurance and unity. In verse 26 he says, “Greet with a holy kiss.” We are told multiple times in the Scriptures to love one another. How we treat others shows what our relationship is really like with Christ. Our love should be shown, but it should not be showy. If we love Him like we should, then we love others as we should. The two go hand-in-hand.
In verse 27, Paul tells them to read the letter he wrote to one another out loud. He gives a command, “I charge you” to submit to the Word of God and to bind it as an oath. If I love you, I will confront you with the truth about unhealthy behavior that is detrimental to you and damaging to the body of Christ. If I love you, I want you to be able to approach me and talk with meabout your concerns and challenges in following my leadership. Sam Rainer also said, “Usually a toxic person does not care, or they do not realize, that they are toxic.” He stated that he has never met a toxic person who was truly aware of their toxicity.
Could it be that they are partially unaware because we have never had the courage to confront them? You must confront the toxic individual with a specific plan for them to correct their unacceptable behavior. Proverbs 6 reminds us that “he that sows discord among the brethren” is an abomination. We must pray that we are never guilty of loveless truth where we handle conflict only from the pulpit or in a public setting. We must also not be guilty of truthless love where we are unwilling to confront any toxicity that is evident in the body of Christ.
More to come on this topic!