News Articles

Church leaders need skills to deal with difficult people

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Church membership rosters offer a buffet of personalities, and just as some foods can be found disagreeable, so it is with personalities.
Avoiding difficult people is impossible for a person in a church staff position, according to Brooks Faulkner of the pastor-staff leadership department at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Faulkner led a “Dealing With Difficult Church Members” session during the National Conference for Church Leadership at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center, June 26-July 3.
Personalities come in all flavors, according to Faulkner, who offered church staffers participating in the workshop several ways to deal with them.
But first, he told them what types of personalities to watch out for.
“We’re all a little bit crazy, and everyone in this room displays some of all these personality types,” he said. “But the more we understand them, the easier it is for God to work through us more to deal with these people.”
The histrionic person, Faulkner said, is one who is overly reactive and who exaggerates his or her emotions.
“This person will come up to you and say, ‘That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard,'” according to Faulkner, who also said they also like to draw attention to themselves and overreact to minor events.
“They throw tantrums, they are self-indulgent, inconsiderate, vain and demanding,” he said. “They display irrational, angry outbursts in unpredictable ways. This is the only-child syndrome.”
The narcissistic personality has a grandiose sense of self-esteem, Faulkner said. He has an exaggerated sense of his own accomplishments.
“They usually focus on the specific nature of a problem. They have tunnel vision and can’t see the larger picture. They expect a lot of special favors.”
The borderline personality, Faulkner said, is very unpredictable and impulsive.
“Sometimes you are their only friend, and they call you every day. Then they will go for long periods of time without contacting you. They have mood swings, they are more prone to depression and they are intolerant of being alone,” he said.
The avoidance personality disorder, Faulkner said, is hypersensitive to rejection. They are unwilling to enter any relationships unless they are given unusual guarantees. They have a strong desire for affection, approval and acceptance.
The compulsive personality disorder, Faulkner said, is one who has to have every action “carried out just right. They make the same decisions over and over.”
The passive aggressive personality is grouped under the compulsive personality, Faulkner said. These are people who are intentionally ineffective. They put things off, and they are stubborn. As children, they were withdrawers, he said.
Faulkner also describes difficult people in “church language.” They are the:
— Behind-the-back movers. “They are circumferential. They never come out front. They take their agendas around to their allies and come at you from behind.”
— I’m-in-chargers. “These are not just movers, but shakers. They are tough to the point of intimidation. If you do something they don’t like, you’re in trouble.”
— Blockers (or “We’re not growing”). “The truth is, they don’t want to grow. They talk like they really do care about the church.” But the place of no growth is comfortable for them, Faulkner said.
— Pacers (“I’m right behind you preacher”). “These are the clinging vines. They are like infants with a ravenous appetite and total lack of responsibility.”
— Front-and-centers. “These are histrionic people who need to be up front. They want to be the soloist every Sunday. They need to use their gifts for God.”
Faulkner offered several ways church staff people could deal with difficult people without losing their cool.
1. Never wrestle with a pig. “You both get dirty and the pig likes it. You don’t want to get to a place where you become like them.”
2. Love them. “Go back to God’s greatest commandment. Love those difficult church members like you love yourself. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.”
3. Listen to them. “The easiest way to diffuse a difficult church member sometimes is just to listen to them. Give them a platform where they are comfortable talking.”
4. If you’re wrong, admit it. “The hardest thing to say in a Baptist church is, ‘I was wrong; you were right. Can you forgive me?'”
5. Forgive them.
6. Don’t put them down. “If you put them down, you elevate your own leadership absurdity.”
7. Don’t try to change them. “You can’t change them, God can. If you want to try, you’re in for a long ride.”
“Never forget God’s promise,” Faulkner told the leaders. “For we know in everything, God is working to bring about his good.”

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey