All leaders have “problem people.” Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses’ wife. A faction in the church at Corinth raised questions about Paul’s financial integrity. And Jesus–his problem people followed him everywhere he went, laying traps for him, watching for him to make a mistake, and complaining about who he ate with, when he healed, and whether or not his disciples had washed their hands.
In his book, Ministering to Problem People in the Church, author Marshall Shelley describes ten kinds of problem people you may encounter in the church:
- The Bird Dog–Constantly pointing out issues he or she thinks the minister needs to take care of without being willing to get personally involved.
- The Wet Blanket–Shoots down every idea and squelches any glimmer of enthusiasm the minister or the congregation show.
- The Entrepreneur–Enthusiastically greets every visitor who enters the building, but is more excited to share his or her latest multilevel marketing opportunity than to talk about Jesus.
- Captain Bluster–Speaks in all exclamation points; thinks they are always right, everyone else is always wrong, and there is no room for negotiation.
- Fickle Financier–Holds the church budget hostage and routinely uses money to show their approval or disapproval of church actions and leadership.
- The Busybody–Considers it a personal duty to mind everyone else’s business whether the people around them want their help or not.
- The Sniper–Avoids personal confrontation at all costs, but takes potshots at the pastor and church leaders from his or her hidden nest via private conversations.
- The Bookkeeper–Keeps a record of every mistake the minister or the minister’s family make and opens his or her book at very opportunity.
- Merchant of Muck–Breeds dissatisfaction in the congregation by being wllling to listen to, expound on, and amplify everything wrong with the church.
- Legalist–Maintains a list of absolutes that everyone in his or her orbit must obey.
As Shelley points out, most of these “dragons” don’t wake up in the morning intending to give church staff ulcers and wreak havoc in the congregation. Rather,
The distinguishing characteristic of a dragon is not what is said but how it’s said. Even though these people are well-intentioned, sincerely doing what’s best in their own eyes, they aren’t quite with you. Often they have a spirit that enjoys being an adversary rather than an ally. They have a consistent pattern of focusing on a narrow special interest rather than the big picture, which leads to tangents rather than a balanced church life.
The roles may vary, but all church leaders will run into their own version of problem people somewhere along the way. But here’s the most important thing you can do for the problem people in your life: pray for them.
Praying for problem people protects and changes our hearts. Blessing protects us against bitterness. Blessing our problem people allows us to get God’s perspective on the situation, discerning the motives and reasons that lay behind their behavior. It keeps our hearts tender enough to invest in relationship and connection–and courageous enough to make the first move. Through prayer God gives us patience in our responses, wisdom to know what to say and when to say it, and the ability to recognize when the the time for confrontation has come.
Often it’s not the problem person that really causes us problems in ministry. It’s how we respond to them. Prayer may not change them, but it does change us. Prayer brings God’s wisdom and power into the situation and allows us to see our problem people less as people who are problems and more as people who have problems who need ministry. When you have problem people in your ministry, here’s the most important thing you can do: pray.
Q: How have you seen prayer change your relationships with problem people?
And don’t forget–Renewed is now available for preorder. Order your copy today to get your set of preorder goodies! You can also read an excerpt online at Medium.